Thursday, December 30, 2010

Share your garden photos to take the chill off

A few days ago, I posted a message titled Cure for the Winter Blues that had links to some beautiful photos of the area on flickriver. Today I thought I would go a step further and encourage everyone to share their own photos online. Whether you take photos of the current conditions outside or want to spend some time going through some of the photos you have already accumulated, why not add them to these flickr streams so that we can all share the beauty of Washinton, D.C., Maryland and Virginia gardens.  

One, two - what should you do?  
Three, Four - walk out the door  
Five, Six - Take some pix  
Seven, Eight - manipulate  
Nine, Ten - upload them!

Ok, yes. That is a totally goofy rhyme. But you get the point. Go outside, take some photos, do a little photo-shopping if necessary, and then upload them to one of these flickr groups so we can share them online.

DC Gardens , Maryland Garden Club , Gardens of Virginia

And then check back daily to see if your photos have made the Most Interesting lists:

✿❀Use the scrollbar to view more photos!✿❀

✿❀Use the scrollbar to view more photos!✿❀

✿❀Use the scrollbar to view more photos!✿❀

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Want to win a Bay Friendly home?

I love to enter sweepstakes. And I have to admit that I have won some really wonderful things in my life.

But just because I have already won big, that doesn't mean I don't keep trying to win more. So you can bet that I will be voting and entering to win the DIY network Blog Cabin home that is being renovated on the Chesapeake Bay in Susan, Virginia, a mere 155 miles southeast of Washington, DC.

Blog Cabin is a popular show on DIY network TV. The premise of the show is that they select a home and let viewers vote on various options to create the ultimate vacation home. Viewers can then register to win the home at the completion of the project.

The August 2011 premier will mark the fifth season of this popular show, as they transform the 3-bedroom, 2-bath early 1900s home into a modern-day retreat.

The 2011 Blog Cabin is located on the Chesapeake Bay and sits on over 16 acres of property. So as soon as I read about the contest, I wanted to make sure that they keep the beauty of the Bay in mind when they make changes to the landscaping. Here are some great photos of the exterior of the Blog Cabin home that show how beautiful the property and the views are.

Eco-friendly gardeners know that anything we do around our homes and gardens can affect the waterways. But properties that are directly on a water body have a much more immediate impact.

I emailed Lisa Dyer of DIY network to ask about the landscaping and this is her reply:

I confirmed that we are indeed incorporating Bay-friendly landscaping choices into our Blog Cabin online   voting. That polling period will be from Feb. 28 – March 13. While we don’t have specifics on what exact questions will be asked at this time, we will have confirmation around early to mid-February at the latest, so I will follow up with you then to provide the specifics.

Since the whole premise of the show is that they let viewers add their comments through a blog, we all can help add suggestions for how to keep this home environmentally friendly. Some of my suggestions would be installation of native plants, rain barrels and definitely the elimination of any chemicals in the landscape.

For more information on DIY Network's Blog Cabin, and to participate in a blog about the construction, vote on design elements of the 2011 cabin and view video footage from two "cabin cams," visit

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cure for the winter blues - tiptoe through the tulips..and more

I know it's kind of early to have the winter blues already, but gardeners have a little harder time when they can't get outside and dig in the dirt. I just found something that might help take the chill off and help you dream and plan next spring's garden.

Take a look at these beautiful photos from various local gardens on Flickriver:

Here is a link for Gardens of Virginia

And here is one for the Maryland Garden Club

And here is one listed as DC Gardens

Fix yourself a nice hot cup of coffee, tea or cocoa and sit back and tiptoe through the tulips. Enjoy!

Tips for reducing environmental damage from deicers

Sometimes a product that seems like the easiest and quickest solution to a problem around our homes and gardens can be doing much more harm than good. Certainly this can be true of chemical fertilizers and pest products, which sometimes work quicker but are often doing long-term damage to the planet. But in the winter, the product that many residents reach for to remove ice from their driveways and sidewalks is another environmental bad guy.

Most de-icing products contain high levels of salt, which can damage driveways and sidewalks, be harmful to pets, damage lawns and other plants, and harm our waterways.

The Maryland Department of the Environment explains why salt can be detrimental to the environment:

Salt and the Environment (pdf document) 
Soil: Excess salt can saturate and destroy a soil’s natural structure and result in more erosion and sediment transport to the Chesapeake Bay.

Vegetation: High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation. Healthy vegetation is a vital buffer between land and water, reducing nutrient exports to the Bay.

Wildlife: Salt poses the greatest danger to fresh water ecosystems and fish. Studies in New York have shown that as salt concentrations increase in a stream, bio-diversity decreases.

Humans:Excess salt can seep into groundwater and runoff into reservoirs affecting the taste of drinking water. Additionally, sodium chloride can exacerbate hypertension.

Corrosion: Salt is corrosive and can damage exposed rebar, bridges, and automobiles. Additionally, by increasing the freeze/thaw cycle, salt can prematurely age cement and asphalt.

There are many alternatives to salt including potassium chloride, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, corn processing by products, and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Most can be found in your local hardware store under various trade names – check labels for chemical content.

Despite the harm that they can cause to the environment, homeowners need to consider the importance of preventing falls around their homes during the winter months. Here are some tips from the Maryland Cooperative Extension and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
  • Ice melting products are most effective when spread thinly and evenly over the pavement prior to ice formation. It is much easier to prevent ice than to try to melt a thick layer of ice. Avoid use of salt by clearing walkways of snow before it turns to ice and consider that salt and deicers are not effective when more than 3 inches have accumulated.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions when applying a deicer. If possible, use even less than is recommended, but make sure the surface is covered thinly and evenly.
  • To melt thick ice in very cold weather, add a small amount of water to the deicer to help initiate melting. To further aid melting and provide sure footing, mix the deicer with wet sand and/or ashes.
  • For areas with a thin layer of ice, instead of deicer, try applying warm water mixed with table salt, water conditioner salt or the brine backwash from a water conditioner.
  • Use sand, ashes or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.
  • Once a dry route to the house has been established, block off slippery areas to prevent personal injury.
  • If an ice storm is predicted, cover small areas with heavy plastic or other water proof material.
  • Consider the temperature. Salt and CMA have a much slower effect on melting snow and ice at temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Track winter weather and only use salt and deicers when a storm is imminent. If a winter storm does not occur, sweep up any unused material, store, and reuse for the next big storm.
  • Apply deicing products discriminately, focusing on high-use areas where traction is critical and apply the least amount necessary to get the job done. This will save money in product costs and will also help minimize property damage to paved surfaces, vehicles, and vegetation.
  • Plant native vegetation that is salt tolerant in stormwater drainage swales and ponds that may receive salt-laden runoff. Not only will these native species have a greater chance for survival, but they will continue to act as an effective buffer for the Chesapeake Bay. (Recommended trees and bushes: high bush blueberry, bayberry, green ash, black locust, sycamore, sweet gum, pin oak, hemlock and bald cypress)
  • Store salt and other products on an impervious surface to prevent ground contamination and in a dry, covered area to prevent stormwater runoff.

Melting Ice Safely, Maryland Cooperative Extension (pdf document)
Winter Weather, Chemical Deicers and the Chesapeake Bay (pdf document)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Disposing of Christmas Trees in Metro DC Area

If you are looking for the best way to dispose of your Christmas tree, first consider some of these ideas for using your tree in your garden.

If none of those ideas appeal to you, there are different rules for tree disposal depending on where you live.

In Fairfax County, if your tree is less than 8 feet, you can put it out by the curb during the first two weeks of January for no additional cost. If your tree is larger than 8 feet, contact your trash hauler for collection details.

The Montgomery County solid waste website says: We will collect Christmas trees on your recycling day from Monday, December 27, 2010 through Friday, February 4, 2011. Please put your Christmas tree at the curb by 7 a.m. on your collection day.

For District residents, the website says: Holiday trees and wreaths will be picked up curbside from January 3 to January 15. Remove all decorations and place the greenery in the treebox space in front of your home between Sunday, January 2, and Sunday, January 9. Please do not put the trees in plastic or cloth bags. Any trees not collected by January 15 should be set out with your trash to be picked up as space in the trash trucks allows over the following weeks.

Arlington Virginia tree pickup info: Christmas Tree Collection will be from January 3-14, 2011 on your regular refuse day. Since trees will be ground into wood mulch, please remove the tree stand, lights, and decorations. Please do not place the tree in a plastic bag. More Info

In Frederick, Md., residents can drop off their trees at the following drop off points starting Dec. 27 and ending on Jan. 31.
  • Harry Grove Stadium in the Lower Lot
  • Husky Park (Yard 2) - Highland Street
  • Max Kehne Park - West 7th Street
  • Taskers Chance Park - Key Parkway behind Westridge Shopping Center

Recycle your Christmas tree in the garden

If you are like my husband and me, you keep your Christmas tree around as long as possible. We keep ours up and decorated in the house at least until New Year's, but even after that, we try to use it up as much as we can around our yard.

When we first take it outside, we prop it up outside of my office window and hang treats for the birds and any other critters that dare to crawl out of their warm hiding places looking for a snack. We hang an assortment of items such as pieces of fruit, suet or pinecones filled with peanut butter and bird seed. Even just laying the tree outside in a protected part of the yard can provide shelter for some types of wintering wildlife, including rabbits.

Another use for a leftover Christmas tree is to trim off some of the branches and lay them in the garden as an extra layer of warmth against the cold winter temperatures.

One use that many gardeners never think of is to use their discarded tree as a snow fence to help conserve water in the spring.

This is such a clever idea that I wish I could take credit for it, but I actually read it online on a a website called Thrifty Fun.

The post, entitled Conserve Water with a Snow Fence, suggests that proper placement of your discarded Christmas tree can help you to redirect the springtime snow melt to help water your gardens.

If you live in an area with harsh winters, strong winds and steady snowfall can create a lot of drifting snow. Believe it or not, this presents you with a great opportunity to conserve water. By installing a snow fence, you can effectively capture snow and create drifts in areas where you need additional snow to melt in the spring. You can read the full article here.

When you are ready to dispose of your tree, there are different rules for curbside pickup, depending on where you live. Read Disposing of Christmas Trees in the Metro DC area for more information.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Green New Years Resolution - More Bare Naked Gardening

I always make a LOT of resolutions each year. It's a great practice for me, and although I don't always keep every single resolution, I do find that having a list helps keep me on track. I make resolutions about money, health, relationships and, of course, about how I want to take care of the planet.

For the coming year, I resolve to practice more BARE NAKED GARDENING!

Be kind to the planet - everything you do in your garden affects all others  
A void overwatering - it's a waste of money and bad for the environment  
Reduce storm water runoff - it pollutes local waterways
Enhance your soil naturally - use organic fertilizers and soil additives Bare naked gardening in DC  
Nix the noxious products- choose eco-friendly options  
Add some mulch - mulch retains moisture while adding nutrients  
Keep a compost pile - it's a valuable and free source of fertilizer  
Encourage beneficials - worms and pollinating insects are good  
Determine your site conditions - work with mother nature, not against her Bare Naked Gardening in DC  
Get outside! - gardening is good for the body and good for the soul.  
Avoid indiscriminate pesticide use - choose eco-friendly options  
Raise your mower blade to 3 inches- you'll have a healthier lawn  
Don't sweep clippings or fertilizer into storm drains- they pollute waterways  
Eliminate weeds by hand pulling, hoeing and spot treating  
Nurture local wildlife - provide food, shelter and safe conditions for local wildlife  
Install rain barrels - rain barrels conserve water and prevent runoff  
Naturalize your landscape - choose native plants  
Grass-cycle - mulch your grass clippings and return them to your yard

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beware of second-hand herbicides

Everyone knows the effects of second-hand smoke, but not every gardener is aware of the potential dangers of second-hand herbicides.

Eco-friendly gardeners make extra efforts to maintain the weeds in their yards with non-chemical methods such as spot treating, hand-pulling and hoeing. But an article in a recent edition of Maryland Home and Garden, a newsletter from the Home and Garden Information Center of the University of Maryland explains how even gardeners who are making the right choices around their yards by eliminating chemical weed and pesticide products may be unwittingly adding poison to the planet.

The article, entitled Gardener Alert! Beware of Herbicide- Contaminated Compost and Manure reports that unsuspecting farmers and gardeners have applied compost, manure, and grass clippings contaminated with herbicides.

Here are the steps they advise to make sure that you aren't inadvertently using second-hand herbicides.

What’s a gardener to do? 

* Grass clippings can make a wonderful organic mulch and addition to the compost pile. Just be certain that the clippings you use were not sprayed with any herbicides. Don’t use neighborhood yard waste unless you’re sure it’s free of herbicides.

* Herbicide-contaminated compost and manure do not look or smell unusual. Most farmers who sell or give manure away may or may not know if their animals grazed on grasses or ate hay sprayed with aminopyralid or clopyralid. Ask commercial compost suppliers if their products are free of herbicide contaminants. Maryland Environmental Service (MES) is the producer of Leafgro, a very popular yardwaste compost available at garden centers throughout Maryland. MES has Leafgro tested regularly by an independent lab and have not detected aminopyralid or clopyralid. 

Bioassay test- this is the best way to test for possible contamination. You just mix some of the suspect material (hay, grass clippings, manure, compost) with a soil-less growing mix, dump it in a nursery pot, plant pea or bean seeds and observe what happens. Contamination is indicated if the seeds don’t germinate or seedlings emerge that are twisted and deformed. 

You can read the whole article along with other great information for local gardeners by downloading the Maryland Home and Garden newsletter here (pdf format).

This grant money is for the birds

If you've followed this blog, you know that I feel that eco-friendly gardening goes hand-in-hand with appreciating the birds and the bees . When you "garden green", you eliminate chemicals and use more native plants, and both of these steps have a natural tendency to attract more birds, bees and butterflies.

But it works both ways. Sometimes the love of birding and wildlife comes first, encouraging a homeowner to create an eco-friendly garden to attract wildlife. And sometimes the eco-friendly garden comes first, and the visiting wildlife is just a welcome and wonderful surprise.

In any case, organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology understand the importance of encouraging people to appreciate birds. With that in mind, they are offering mini-grants to help fund neighborhood bird appreciation events in urban areas.

The grants can be used for any creative program using the arts, science, community service and greening to encourage an understanding of birds and to get people to become involved in conservation.

In 2010, Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., used a grant for a month-long program for their homeless clients, which included: bird yoga, origami, poetry, art, as well as learning about 16 bird species and collecting data.

In 2009, Garland Hayward Youth Center in Princess Anne, MD used a mini-grant to plant raised beds and install bird houses and bird feeding stations to enhance wildlife habitat around their Center.

Also in 2009, Queen City Creamery in Cumberland, MD had a community greening and bird program with the local public libraries.

What is a Celebrate Urban Birds event? These are neighborhood events featuring activities involving birds, community service, art, greening, and science. Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grants could be used to support a bird-activity day at a local museum, after school program, library, or community center, or fund art and gardening activities at your club, business, school, senior center, or neighborhood. 

Organizations working with underserved communities are strongly encouraged to apply.

For more information on the grants, go to

Also from their website, Urban Gardening for Birds

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why Does Santa Love DC? Ask Rudolph

According to estimates on, Santa and his reindeer have to cover approximately 178 million miles on Christmas Eve hauling a sleigh filled with about 660 million pounds of toys. Even the most magical of reindeer appreciate a good resting spot during that arduous journey.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Washington DC area, which currently rates second in the nation for square footage of green roofs, is one of their favorite hangouts.

Green roofs, which are partially or completely covered with vegetation planted in a growing medium, provide excellent resting spots for Santa’s weary reindeer.

In the wild, reindeer live in the cold arctic tundra, where food is hard to come by. During the winter, there is often no plant life at all, and the reindeer must sustain themselves solely on lichen.

Green roofs, however, are often covered with sedums and other plants that survive through the winter, presenting a wonderful dining spot for ravenous reindeer.

The District Department of the Environment has a great webpage entitled Green Roofs in the District: RiverSmart Rooftops . Although it fails to mention the fact that they are reindeer magnets, the site does describe some of the other benefits of green roofs:

Benefits of Green Roofs 

Green, or vegetated, roofs help to manage stormwater. Stormwater runoff is rainwater that flows off impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and sometimes even lawns. Stormwater runoff travels from these surfaces to our streams, picking up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways as it goes. Nutrients from lawn fertilizers and bacteria from pet waste may also be picked up by stormwater and carried to our streams. Once in the stream, stormwater causes erosion, poor water quality and destruction to habitat for fish and other wildlife. 

Green roofs hold and delay rainfall, effectively preventing rainwater from becoming stormwater and reducing combined sewer overflow events. In addition, green roofs filter air pollutants from the rainwater and save energy in buildings. 

Green roofs are especially effective in cities such as the District, where so much surface area is taken up by rooftops. Green roofs are most appropriate for flat rooftops of commercial and residential buildings; modern systems are lightweight but roof structures must be checked for adequacy.

Other environmental benefits of green roofs include reduced heating and cooling loads, the filtering of pollutants and carbon dioxide out of the air, and the creation of agricultural space. And of course, they provide natural habitat areas for any type of flying wildlife, including (ahem) reindeer.

There are many government and private buildings in DC with green roofs including the US Department of Transportation Headquarters, the American Society of Landscape Architects Headquarters Building, and the Franklin D. Reeves Center.

But if I were a reindeer, I think I’d head right over to the new green roof on the World Wildlife Fund Headquarters that is touted as being the third largest green roof in the city. After all, every young child may know that cookies and milk are the favorite snacks of Santa Claus. But the World Wildlife Fund would certainly be one of the best sources to know what snacks are favorites of reindeer.

And it’s not just the reindeer that appreciate the green roofs. Santa loves anything that helps to keep his aerial view as beautiful and as pristine as possible, and green roofs go a long way in helping to reduce stormwater pollution that could affect some of his favorite water bodies such as the Anacostia River and its watersheds.

But don’t worry, as a homeowner, there are plenty of ways for you to stay on Santa’s “nice” list when it comes to protecting local water supplies, such as staying away from “naughty” landscape products like harsh chemical fertilizers and weed products and installing rain barrels to help reduce storm water runoff.

And if you aren’t quite certain whether something falls into the naughty or nice category in your garden, just stop on back at the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog and we’ll help you figure it out. After all, we like to do our best to keep Santa happy.

For more information about Green Roofs in DC,visit : Green Roofs– Anacostia Watershed Society and Green Roofs in the District

Happy and Safe Holiday Wishes from the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Gardening" isn't just a spring thing in Washington, D.C.

I noticed that we were mentioned in DC Blogs Noted this morning. Here is what was said:

I don’t usually associate the holiday season with gardening; that seems like sort of a spring thing to me. But Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog proves me wrong with a Christmas chestnut from a green-thumb point of view.

Of course, I appreciate the mention, especially since it gives me the opportunity to pass along one of my mottoes in life: That "Life is a Garden" and we each have the opportuntiy, every day, to "Plant something good." With that in mind, I would like to play Johnny Appleseed by re-sowing another great story that I read today on Green Celebrity Network .

Last December, Washington, D.C. resident Reed Sandridge was unemployed and looking for work. As bad as it was for him, he knew there were others in D.C. who needed money more than he did. He decided to use his newly found free time focusing on helping others. One of the ways he did that was by giving $10 a day to a stranger, everyday for a year and keeping a blog about it.

I went over to Sandridge's Year of Giving blog and all I could think was "wow". I was humbled by his generosity and his altruism. Sandridge says:

My goal is not to change the lives of those with whom I come in contact. Let’s face it, $10 dollars is not going to change someone’s life in and of itself. I do believe, however, that the act of giving will hopefully inspire others to pursue the ideals that the French philosopher Auguste Comte envisioned when he coined the term “altruism.” Whether that comes in the form of someone who reads this blog and wants to embark on their own Year of Giving or someone who uses the $10 to help someone else out, the specific results are less important than the overall good that we can achieve together.

If "Life is a Garden", then Reed Sandridge has definitely "planted something good" in Washington, D.C. this past year. Proving my point, of course, that "gardening" isn't just a spring thing, but something that each of us can do all year through.

The Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog is about gardening ... and more. It's about what we can do throughout the year to make our gardens, and our cities and our planet a little bit better place. From an ecological standpoint, a lot of that change can happen in our gardens.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Night Before Christmas (a gardener's point of view)

Here's another cute Christmas poem for gardeners, reprinted in full with permission of the author, Marianne Binetti  

The night before Christmas (a gardener's point of view)

’Twas the week before Christmas,
and all through the yard,
not a gift had been given,
not even a card.

The tools were all hung,
in the carport with care,
with hopes that St. Nicholas
soon would repair.

The shovel with blade
all rusty and cracked,
the pitchfork still shiny,
but handle it lacked.

When out on my lawn,
(it’s brown and abused)
I could see poor old Santa,
looking confused.

No list had been left
for Santa to see,
no gardening gifts
were under the tree.

But wait there’s still time,
it’s not Christmas yet,
and gardening gifts
are the quickest to get.

You can forget the silk tie,
the fluffy new sweater,
give something to make
the garden grow better.

If she wants a gift shiny,
then don’t be a fool,
it’s not a dumb diamond,
but a sparkling new tool.

If fragrance is listed
you can forget French perfume,
it’s a pile of manure
that’ll make gardeners swoon.

Give night crawlers, not nightgowns,
the type of hose that gives water.
(Anything for the kitchen
is not worth the bother.)

Give a great gift
that digs in the dirt,
it’s better than any
designer-brand shirt.

Now look quick at Santa,
this guy’s not so dumb,
Under his glove,
he hides a green thumb.

His knees are so dirty,
his back how it aches,
his boots stomp on slugs,
(he gives them no breaks).

Santa only works winter,
you can surely see why,
The rest of the year
it’s a gardening high.

Elves plant in the spring,
pull weeds merrily all summer,
in fall they all harvest,
but winter’s a bummer

And so Christmas gives Santa
a part-time employment,
till spring when the blooms
are his real life enjoyment.

So ask the big guy
for garden gifts this year,
Seeds, plants and tools,
Santa holds them all dear.

You see malls may be crowded,
vendors hawking their ware,
but visit a nursery,
stress-free shopping is there.

Now Santa’s flown off,
to the nursery he goes,
and his voice fills the night
with loud Hoe! Hoe! Hoes!**

Merry Christmas from Marianne Binetti

** And speaking of hoe, hoe, hoes. Don't forget that they make great eco-friendly gardening gifts by allowing gardeners an environmentally safe way to remove weeds from the garden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eco-Santa’s Favorite Garden Gift? A hoe, hoe, hoe

Weeds, of course, are a challenge for any gardener. For eco-minded gardeners, who try to abstain from using chemicals, the challenges are even greater.

It is important to try to eliminate chemicals when possible, however, to help cut down on non-point source pollution which is a leading cause of pollution for local water supplies. Sure, you can take the path of least resistence and choose to see the weeds as welcome wildflowers. Or you can spot treat weeds with eco-friendly products or pull them by hand. But if you would like a quicker way to control what gets to stay and what has to go in your garden, then a hoe, hoe, hoe is the perfect solution.

 Controlling weeds with a hoe is a lot quicker and easier than hand pulling. Hoes allow you to get the entire root, without the disruption to nearby plants that a rotary tiller would cause. Long handled hoes allow you to do the dirty work from a standing position, causing less strain on your knees and back. Since they dig down into the dirt, hoes can allow you to remove the weeds before they even reach the surface.

 Hoes are also useful for loosening soil and creating troughs to plant seeds. The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, in their document Weeds in the Home Vegetable Garden, says this about the benefits of hoes:

There are several ways to rid the garden of most problem plants. Since mature weeds extract large quantities of moisture and nutrients from the soil, removing the weeds when they are young is beneficial. Hand-pulling suffices for small gardens and raised beds, but a hoe is critical for larger gardens. Manual-powered rotary cultivators do a good job on long rows and pathways, provided the soil is not too wet or dry and the weeds are small. In large gardens with widely spaced rows, a rotary tiller of appropriate size makes the work easy and fast. Manual and powered rotary cultivators are usually unable to turn under weeds close to vegetable plants without damaging the vegetables. Hand-pulling or hoeing are best for removing weeds near vegetable plants. Deep cultivation with any instrument is likely to damage roots or stems of crop plants.

There are many different types of hoes and long-time gardeners generally have their favorite. They come with flat heads, pointed heads, curved heads and even swivel heads. Whatever style is preferred, it is important to keep the hoe sharpened. Just surf on over to your favorite garden center website and do a quick search to see all of the different types of hoes available.

Here is a cute blog post that has photos of many different types.

 And for more information about environmentally friendly weed control, check out these guidelines from Montgomery County and Fairfax County. 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

Eco-friendly gardening: It's a Wonderful Life

Taking care of the planet, by practicing eco-friendly gardening techniques, is a great way to help local birds, butterflies and other garden wildlife. It is also a way to create a WONDER-full life.

Every time you garden green, you are helping to protect and preserve habitat for local wildlife. The process is so magical and mystical that it reminds me of the classic line from one of my favorite Christmas movies, It's a Wonderful Life. At the end of this happily-ever-after movie, George Bailey and his friends and family are singing Christmas carols when a bell on their Christmas tree rings, reminding young daughter Zuzu that "every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings."

In widlife gardens, the surprises are just as magical. Eliminating chemicals, using native plants and conserving water are all great for the planet and for local wildlife.

So to give your family a gift that lasts a lifetime, make plans to start (or continue) an eco-friendly garden this spring. You will soon feel the same way that I do: that being a green gardener IS a Wonderful Life. And every time you garden green, a butterfly gets its wings. 
Four tips for an eco-friendly garden:

1) Eliminate chemicals - spot treat weeds or pull them by hand

2) Choose native plants - they adapt better to local conditions

3) Conserve water- waterwise landscapes are a great start

4) Garden for wildlife - turn everyday gardening into a WONDER-FULL way of life

I hope you will join us on the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog as we learn to create environmentally friendly landscapes together. You can subscribe (at right) and follow us on Facebook to join in the conversation. Be sure to add any suggestions or questions you'd like to learn more about!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Think Twice before Choosing a Living Christmas Tree

I have a neighbor who has a couple of HUGE pine trees in his yard. They take up way too much of his yard and look completely out of place. But because of their size, it would be very costly to have them removed. They are the result of good intentions gone awry - living trees which were purchased for Christmas trees and then planted in his yard, without enough thought given to the size that the trees would some day reach.

Many gardeners like the idea of choosing a Christmas tree that can later be planted in their landscape. It seems so environmentally friendly and provides more bang for the buck by allowing you to enjoy the tree year after year rather than just tossing it away after the season.

But before you decide to choose a living tree, keep these things in mind:

1) Make sure you choose a tree which is appropriate for the area. Many living trees which are available through mail-order will not survive in northern climates. Virginia Pines, Eastern White Pines and several cypress and cedar species are suitable options for the Washington, DC metro area.

2) Decide where you will plant the tree. Virginia Pines and White pines can reach heights of up to 80'. Red Cedars can reach heights of 50'. This makes them impractical choices for many home landscapes. Another option would be to find a park or public area that would accept the tree as a donation after the season. If you know of any Arlington, Rockville, DC or other local organizations that would like a donated tree, please let us know by adding a comment at the end of this post.

3) Living trees are much heavier than cut trees. Whether they are in a pot or balled and burlapped, a living tree can weigh well over 100 pounds.

4) If you are going to plant the tree in your yard, you should dig the hole for the tree before the ground freezes. The hole should be 3 times the diameter of the root ball and as deep.

5) Living trees may be more likely to have bugs and other critters living in them. Check closely for insects and insect egg masses before bringing the tree indoors.

6) Ideally, trees should be slowly acclimated to the indoor climate. Gradually introduce your living tree from outside to inside over three or four days via the garage or enclosed porch. A tree that is dormant and exposed to immediate warmth will start to grow. Locate your tree in the coolest part of the room and away from heating ducts.

7) You should limit the time that you have a living tree indoors. Although cut trees can be kept indoors for three weeks or more, the shorter the time a living tree is kept indoors the better. A maximum of 7 to 10 days is recommened. The survival of a living tree is dependent on its winter hardiness. Keeping it indoors for too long will make it less winter hardy.

8) It is important that you water the plant regularly to keep the soil moist. This will add even more weight to the tree.

9) Christmas tree lights may put out heat which will damage the needles of the tree.

10) Planting a tree in winter will require extra care for its survival. Make sure you are ready for that commitment before you purchase the tree.

For more information:
Choose a locally grown Christmas Tree
Selecting and Caring for a Live Christmas Tree (pdf) - MD Cooperative Extension
Marylanders Plant Trees - Recommened tree list and planting suggestions
Care for Living Trees - Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association
Selection and Care of Christmas Trees - Virginia Cooperative Extension
How to Care for a Live Christmas Tree
Living Christmas Trees (Clemson University)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recycle Garden Trimmings to Create Holiday Wreath

My husband, Tom, LOVES everything about Christmas.

But one of his favorite holiday activities is using some of the Christmas tree branches and whatever he can find in the yard and garden to create our holiday wreath.

He starts with a wire wreath frame which can be purchased online or at local craft stores. He then weaves in branches that were cut off of the bottom of our Christmas tree. If we need extra greenery, local Christmas tree lots are usually more than happy to let us have as many branches as we need.

After the wreath is full of greenery, he walks around the yard snipping berries, flowers and other items to add to the wreath. Sometimes he even snips a blossom from an indoor flower or two.

I was too busy baking holiday goodies to get photos of the whole process this year, but I've included a few shots to show you how much fun it is and how much nicer the result is than a store-bought wreath.

If you want to try creating one of your own, here is a blog post I found called How to Make a Fresh Wreath that helps illustrate the whole process.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tips for helping chilly critters

Visiting birds and wildlife are a treat in the winter! Colorful cardinals and bright bluejays can add signs of life to an otherwise drab winter landscape. Chickadees, titmice, wrens and other small birds can provide plenty to see through the windows from the comfort of your own warm winter roost.

If you are one of the many gardeners who have discovered the joys of the birds and other wildlife that visits an eco-friendly yard, than you may be wondering if there are any special steps you can take in the winter for your birds and other garden visitors. I know its not really winter yet, but there is no doubt that baby, it's COLD outside.

Here are some tips to help our feathered and furred friends during the cold months ahead:

1) Provide fresh water: Wildlife may find their regular water supplies frozen. You can help by providing birdbaths and keeping the water ice-free.  

2.) Switch to high-protein foods: Suet and peanuts are great high-energy foods for winter bird feeding.

3) Keep their safety in mind: Although it is always important to provide shelter and keep pets away from visiting wildlife, it is more important in the winter when many species of birds and other wildlife are concentrating on surviving the cold and aren't as focused on evading predators.

4) Create Cozy Winter Roosts: In winter, some cavity dwelling birds will use nest boxes to stay warm.

5) Make your own feeders: Roll a pine-cone in peanut butter and then dip in birdseed for an attractive, inviting holiday feeder.

If you have not yet discovered the pleasures of gardening for wildlife, attracting these winter visitors can be as easy as hanging a suet feeder and putting out a birdbath.

Here are plenty of articles to help get you started:

Top 10 Foods for Winter Feeding, Birdwatcher's Digest
Top 10 Winter Feeder Mistakes to Avoid, Birdwatcher's Digest
Top 10 Things to Do in Winter, Birdwatcher's Digest
Backyard Wildlife Habitats, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Winter Bird Feeding, Wild Birds Unlimited
Maryland's Wild Acres Program
Virginia Habitat for Wildlife
Garden for Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation
Winter Ritual: Building the Brush Pile

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Green gardening tips from Walmart?

I was poking around on the internet looking for "green gardening" tips and was surprised to find that has a post about the topic. I was even more surprised to find that the tips were really pretty good and that the article didn't appear to be trying to sell anything. Bottom line: I was kind of impressed.

They even mentioned some of the steps that I believe are the most important for an eco-friendly, "green" landscape: mowing responsibly and cutting back or eliminating chemicals.

For mowing responsbily, Walmart's article says:

* Keep your lawnmower and other equipment in efficient operating condition by performing regular maintenance according to the owner's manual. Purchase a nozzle that prevents fuel spills when refilling your lawnmower. Use manual tools when appropriate to save fuel and protect air quality.

* Raise the cutting height of your lawnmower during the hot summer months to keep grass roots shaded and cooler, reducing weed growth, browning and the need for watering. When you mow, "grasscycle" by leaving grass clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them or use a mulching mower. The clippings will return nutrients to the soil instead of taking up space in landfills.

And for cutting down on chemicals, they say.

* Use food scraps, yard trimmings and other organic waste to create a compost pile. Compost is a rich soil amendment that can help increase water retention, decrease erosion and replace chemical fertilizers.

* Don't over-fertilize. A slow-release organic fertilizer applied once in the fall is sufficient for most lawns. Consult your cooperative extension agent for other tips appropriate to your locality. 

* Many plants and insects can serve as non-toxic, natural deterrents to weeds and garden pests. Introduce ladybugs to eat aphids, plant marigolds to ward off beetles and look for quick-sprouting plants to block weed growth. 

* Reduce your use of fertilizers and pesticides by planting grass and other vegetation that is native to your area.

Other tips include using native plants, what to do with unwanted plants you are replacing, and easy steps to protect your plants from the cold.

It's a good article. Take a look!

Here is a link to the full post, entitled Green Gardening.

If you are looking for local information on these topics, look no further than the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog. The search box at the right can help you find just what you need. And if you don't find it, let us know. We'll be happy to track down the info for you and pass it on.

"Trowels are the underwear of gardening gifts"

In my morning search to find info on gardening gift ideas, I came upon this wonderful post by Jim Hillibish on

The catchy, but accurate phrase "Trowels are the underwear of gardening gifts" drew me in. After all, as gardeners, anything that makes our work outdoors easier is a tried and true gift....the fallback gift. As Jim says "Despite a drawer full, you can always use another one."

Hillibish goes on to list some great examples of tools that will make most avid gardeners green with envy.

So if you've been thinking along the lines of sexy lingerie for your gardening gal, perhaps you should reconsider. Come on big guy. You know what she really wants.

Head on over to Jim's post to read his suggestions.

More fun reading: 20 Tips to help you decide if a gardening gift is appropriate

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is a gardening gift appropriate? 20 tips to help you decide

Gifts for Gardeners

Gift-giving time is right around the corner. If you are trying to decide if a gardening gift is appropriate for a friend, relative or colleague, here are a few tips to help you decide. (Note: some items gleaned from the popular, though anonymous, post  "You know you are addicted to gardening when.....")

You know a gardening gift is appropriate for someone if:
  1. You have seen them working in their yard in their pajamas.
  2. They have been known to grab other people's banana peels, coffee grounds, apple cores, etc. for their compost pile.
  3. They are conversant in botanical names.
  4. You have caught them fondling leaves, flowers and trunks of trees.
  5. They think nothing of “rescuing” plants out of other people’s trash.
  6. They would rather spend money on plants than groceries.
  7. They carry a shovel, bottled water and a plastic bag in their trunk as emergency tools.
  8. They spend more time chopping kitchen greens for the compost pile than for cooking.
  9. They seem to like the smell of horse manure better than Estee Lauder.
  10. They think rain is something to capture rather than repel.
  11. They take pride in how bad their hands look.
  12. They see your child's sandbox and think it’s a raised bed.
  13. They have stuck their fingers in the soil of your potted plants to check for moisture.
  14. They know exactly how many bags of fertilizer/potting soil/mulch their car will hold.
  15. They have offered to rake your yard just so they could add the leaves to their compost pile.
  16. Their bathroom reading material is seed catalogs.
  17. They always have to return your calls because they were outside when the phone rang.
  18. They use their good linens to cover their plants in the winter.
  19. They seem almost despondent when the weather keeps them indoors.
  20. They look at your weeds and think they are wildflowers.

Growing up Green - when the students become the teachers

I was at my favorite plant nursery one day when I noticed an elderly couple picking out plants to attract butterflies. They had learned about butterfly gardening from their grandchild, who had learned it in second grade.

The concern over Nature Deficit Disorder
There is big concern in our country about children and their lack of contact with nature. Certainly, with so many electronic gadgets tempting kids to stay indoors, it makes sense that nature deficit disorder could be a legitimate concern. As adults, we can do our part to help solve this problem by teaching kids about the pleasures of being outside exploring nature.

But with kids learning so much about protecting the environment in their classrooms, they may have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them.

I recently received an email message announcing the winners of a drawing contest for local students. Seven hundred and fifty-five students submitted illustrations for the first Washington Suburban Sanitary Council (WSSC) calendar contest. The theme for the calendar is “Our Part of the Chesapeake Bay: Let’s Keep Our Water Clean.”

The young 2nd - 5th grade artists ( six from Prince George’s County and six from Montgomery County) received a certificate and $100.

Most of the entries were about things that have an immediate affect on local waterways, such as not dumping oil and other pollutants, with pictures of happy fish and other water creatures expressing their gratitude.

But, as a gardener, I particularly like the picture submitted by 2nd Grader Yaakov Robinson, from Torah School of Greater Washington, Silver Spring. Yaakov's picture shows two hands, gently placing a new plant into the ground with the caption "A healthy Bay begins in your backyard."

What a wonderful reminder for all of us, as gardeners and property owners. "A healthy Bay begins in our own backyards."

As we near the end of our gardening season for the year, I look forward to all of the new things that we have to learn and teach each other in the coming months. Together, perhaps we can learn more ways to protect the bay from our own backyards, such as mowing responsibly, keeping chemicals out of the stormdrains, and not overwatering our lawns.

Many thanks to all of the students who contributed drawings to remind the rest of us of the importance of protecting our waterways.

To view the winning entries go to:

To order the calendar click on: WSSC ART CONTEST CALENDAR 2011

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the $20.95 calendar will go to the Water Fund that helps customers who are having a hard time paying their past due water and sewer bills.

The winners from Montgomery County are:
Yaakov Robinson, 2nd grade, Torah School of Greater Washington, Silver Spring;
Michelle Kien, 2rd grade, Stone Mill Elementary, North Potomac;
Adielle Tuchman, 3rd grade, Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Rockville;
Gabie Gamboa, 4thgrade, Applied Scholastics Academy of Maryland, Silver Spring;
Nicholas Kalargyros, 4thGrade, Matsunaga Elementary School, Germantown;
Christian Oliverio, 5th grade, St. Andrew the Apostle Elementary School, Silver Spring.

Prince George’s County winners are:
Nick Murray, 2nd Grade, St. Mary of the Mills School, Laurel;
Laurren Small, 2nd Grade, Reid Temple Christian Academy, Glenn Dale;
James Reid III, 3rd grade, Rehoboth Academy, Upper Marlboro;
Jordan Cupid, 4th grade, Reid Temple Christian Academy, Glenn Dale
Caitlyn Turner, 4thgrade, Baden Elementary School, Brandywine;
Noelle Morgan, 5th grade, Reid Temple Christian Academy, Glenn Dale;

“Restoring and maintaining the health of the Bay is the most important things we can do to ensure protection of the region’s waterways and ecosystem,” said WSSC General Manager Jerry N. Johnson. “We hope our new calendar with messages from young people will remind folks to not pollute the Bay.”

Holiday wreath workshops - keep your green thumbs active

My husband LOVES the holidays. One of his favorite activities is creating his own holiday wreath with pine boughs and a little bit of anything and everything that he can find in our garden. It is a great way to keep in touch with his gardens even during the slow growing season. If you, too, like the idea of creating your own wreath, here are a few workshops to help you along: 

Holiday wreath workshops:
create a wreath using cedar boughs, magnolia leaves, berry-laden holly, pine cones and boxwood from the Tudor Place garden, all materials provided. 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Fridays through Dec. 10, 10 a.m. Dec. 11, 1 p.m. Dec. 12, Tudor Place, 1644 31st St. NW. $35 per wreath, reservations required. 202-965-0400, Ext. 110. 

Wreath workshop:
horticulturist Bill Johnson leads a grounds walk and a wreath workshop, includes fresh greens and all materials. 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday, Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. $50. 202-686-5807.

For more upcoming holiday activities in the DC area, check out the Washington Post's D.C. Community Calendar.

Website by Water Words That Work LLC