Friday, May 27, 2011

Answers to all of your gardening questions - a poem by Green Gardener

I've been receiving quite a few questions through the contact form on this website lately, so I thought that I would answer them all, in a poem.

                      Answers to your Gardening Questions                      A Poem, by Betsy. S. Franz (the Green Gardener)
"Why won't it grow?" 
Heck, I don't know

"What can I plant?"
Plant what you want

"But will it grow?" 
Heck, I don't know

"What is this weed? What is this bug?" 
Heck, I don't know. (And I'll add a shrug)

"But I thought you were a garden pro?" 
Well, here's all you really need to know.

There's botanists, ecologist and 
Lot's of horticulturists

Of course, there're Master Gardeners too 
And lots of other "Green" gurus

Some know a little, some know a lot 
But what you need to know is your own garden plot

Learning to garden isn't hard 

And my best advice, for what it's worth

To find answers to specific garden question, please use the Dig Here For Answers link on this website.

Garden Social - June 4th - 10am - 4pm

We all know that Gardeners are Just nicer people. So what better way to spend a Saturday than rubbing elbows, making friends and sharing garden secrets with other area gardeners?

Behnke Nurseries is providing the perfect opportunity to bring gardeners together at their Garden Clubs & Plant Societies Day on Saturday, June 4th beginning at 10:00 a.m. at 11300 Baltimore Ave  Beltsville MD  20705

Friends, Gardeners, Plant Lovers: join Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville Maryland on Saturday, June 4th for the first annual Garden Social to benefit the Friends of Brookside Gardens. This is an opportunity for interested people to see what garden clubs have to offer their members, meet plant enthusiasts, ask questions, and maybe even join a club. There will be representatives from many different organizations participating, including the Takoma Horticultural Club, the Azalea Society of America, the Beltsville Garden Club, Master Gardeners from Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, the Gesneriad Society (African Violets and their relatives), the Potomac Hosta Club and the Silver Spring Garden Club, just to name a few.

The idea is for members of different groups to share with each other and pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm to Behnke’s gardening customers. But there’s more to it than that: anyone who brings a garden plant from home can participate in the “plant swap” at 11:30. Also, there will be many wonderful items offered as raffle prizes. All money raised from the raffle goes to the Friends of Brookside Gardens, supporting the magnificent public garden in Wheaton, so dear to all of us in the Washington, DC area.

In addition, at 3:00PM, internationally renowned perennial expert David Culp of Sunny Border Nurseries will be giving a free lecture on perennials. David’s Pennsylvania garden has been profiled in Martha Stewart’s Living. He is currently writing a book about his garden for Timber Press.

We expect this to become an annual event, so why not attend the first one? Like Woodstock… you can tell your grandchildren: “I was there!” There is plenty of parking at Behnkes, and food will be available to purchase from Monte’s Barbeque.

We are open from 8 to 6, with the Garden Social running from 10 to 4.

For more information, contact Stephanie Fleming at 301-937-8150 or via email

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meadow Ecology Slideshow, Lecture & Walk - May 28th

Bristoe Station Battlefield is home to a complex meadow ecosystem. Join naturalists, Cliff Fairweather, from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and Charles Smith from the Prince William Wildflower Society (VNPS) on May 28th for a slide lecture on the benefits of native habitats.

Next follow Cliff and Charles on a walking tour of the 133-acre battlefield and learn about the beneficial wildlife especially the birds and butterflies that call this ecosystem home. Learn to identify the plants that these birds and butterflies need for food and shelter. Bring binoculars. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the weather. No pets please. Advanced reservations recommended and can be made by calling 703-366-3049.

 The slide lecture will be held at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre , 12229 Bristow Road, Bristow Va at 8:30 am.

The walking tour departs from the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park kiosk in the parking lot located at Iron Brigade Unit Ave and 10th Alabama Way at 10:30 am.

 Lecture: 8:30 am – 10:00 am; Walking Tour: 10:30 – Noon.; $7 per person, free for children under six.

Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre and Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park are managed by the Prince William County Division of Historic Preservation.

For more information, please call (703) 366-3049

Rain barrels, like fingernails, are for function, not fashion

On May 15th, I posted a question asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. The responses have been overwhelming and have given me some good food for thought. I have to admit, though, that I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond. Here’s why:

First, I’m a real “natural” gal and a real natural gardener. I’ve never had a professional manicure in my life and I guarantee that no one will EVER call my landscape “manicured”. So I can’t relate a WHOLE lot to the people who said they won’t get a rain barrel because they think they are ugly. In my mind, rain barrels are more for function than fashion – kind of like fingernails – so ours are fairly plain and usually a little dirty. But, like fingernails, rain barrels can be as beautiful as you want to make them. Or they can be discretely placed behind lattice walls or vine covered trellises. My friend Elfrieda commented and said: “I recently added my eighth one (each one holds 55 gallons). When I have garden "tours", most people don’t even see them and ask where they are.”

Other comments received were just as difficult for me to relate to: They cost too much (ours didn’t since we made them), they are difficult to install (I kind of like doing stuff like that), they don’t have good water pressure (they work great for filling up watering cans), HOA rules won’t let me have one (we don’t have HOA’s) and it takes a long time to get them from the government.

The second reason I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond is this: I’m trying my best to be a “green”, eco-friendly gardener. I admit, I’m not always “green” in everything I do. I own and drive an SUV (although, granted, I don’t really drive much). I run the AC when I’m hot (and I’m at that age when I’m hot more often than not). And SOMETIMES I forget to turn off the water when I brush my teeth. But when it comes to my garden and landscape, I really try to be as “green” as possible. So, we have two rain barrels and we intend to build a few more when we get the chance.

The third reason I can’t relate to the many responses I got is this: many local government organizations are willing to HELP their residents do the right, eco-friendly thing, by offering assistance and cash rebates. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD THING!! The fact that they are BEHIND in getting to everyone is also a good thing. It means that people are participating. For goodness sakes, and for GREEN-ness sake, let’s not discourage these programs. Let’s participate, be patient and be appreciative. If we have suggestions to work the kinks out of the programs, let’s offer them. But let’s not stomp on the fingers of the groups that are trying to help us create our “green” gardens.

Okay, now before I redirect you to a post that responds to many of these concerns, I just wanted to comment again about the benefits of rain barrels. Yes, they do capture and hold water, which does help a little bit in times of drought. And, as pointed out by Garden Ruth on Facebook: “I have only one outdoor spigot and using rain barrels on the side without a water source helps me avoid having to install another spigot."

But another VERY important thing that they do is help redirect stormwater runoff.

From The District Department of the Environment website: Rainwater becomes stormwater when rain falls on impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and even lawns. As stormwater moves from our yards to our streams it picks up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways, nutrients from fertilizers on our lawns, and bacteria from pet waste and other animal excrement. Once in the stream, the fast-moving surges of water associated with storms cause erosion and destroys habitat for fish and other wildlife.

There are certainly lots of other ways to cut down on stormwater runoff. You can plant a rain garden. You can install a nice, paver driveway. You can quit using any chemicals in your landscape so that the rainwater that does come off of your property doesn’t cause as many problems. And of course, there is the option of not doing anything at all, if you are okay with that one. But just keep in mind that what you do in your landscape does affect a lot of other people, as pointed out by reader, Leigh Pickering of Arlington.

“I believe most people don't make the connection between their downspouts routed directly to the curb and the flooding of property (and loss of dozens of autos) at the bottom of the hill. (I live near 4 Mile Run Arlington, this happened in '06) They don't understand the lowering of the water table on their (and others) property as a result of their actions or why they lost valuable mature trees and have continual drought stress on their plants. They have never calculated the amount (per roof footage) and value (per their municipal water bill) of the water they literally throw out (Almost $12 per 1000 gallons in Arlington). They are unaware of the enormous costs of managing stormwater off-site or the tax savings that could result from on-site management. And most people are unaware of the loss of quality streams and water habitat as a result of high, fast water flows and its concurrent erosion. Few people understand the importance of impermeable lot coverage laws, and flout them with regularity. Unfortunately, their ignorance is darned expensive for everyone else too.”

Click here to see the results and responses to my rain barrel survey

The Rain Barrel Response - no more excuses

INTRODUCTION (Please read)

I did a quick survey on our blog, on Facebook, on Twitterand on several local garden discussion groups last week asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. Here are some of the comments with responses. Some of the responses provided are from Leah Lemoine , Environmental Protection Specialist from the District Department of the Environment, and are noted by an *LL.

1st Comment: They Cost Too Much – heard from several people

Response: Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a rebate to help cover the purchase price of your rain barrel. In DC, see the RiverSmart Homes site (“The RiverSmart Homes program offers homeowners up to two rain barrels for $30 each.” *LL)  In Montgomery County, see Rainscapes Rewards; in Gaithersburg, Rainscapes Rewards; Rockville – Rainscapes Rewards
If you live outside of the Metro DC area, here's an easy way to look for rain barrel programs in your area. Use the search tool on Click on advanced search to find your state, and then input Rain Barrel or Rain Barrel Rebate. You may have to try other terms to find what you are looking for, but its often worth checking. Another place to try would be your local Cooperative Extension System Office.

Another way to save money is to build your own. Rain barrels are fun and easy to build and there are many rain barrel workshops in the area: Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Registration .

You can also build your own, without a workshop: Rain Barrel Assembly (pdf) 

Video: How to make a rain barrel

Empty plastic drums are available for purchase from James T. Warring Sons for $25.00. And *LL told us that if  you are quick, you can sometimes get empty drums from the Pepsi distributing facility in Hyattsville for only $8.00 each.  “ The Pepsi distributing facility sells used, food-grade drums for $8.  These barrels can easily be retrofitted into a rain barrel with a few pieces of hardware that you can buy at your local hardware store.  The Build Your Own  Rain Barrel brochure from the EPA provides step-by-step instructions. (I have one amendment to these instructions: cut a 2” hole for the upper drain rather than a 1” hole and connect 2” plastic tubing to this hole rather than a spigot). Here is the information to the Pepsi facility: 2611 Pepsi Place, Hyattsville, MD 20781 – Phone (301) 322-7000. They go quick so you should call ahead to make sure there are some on hand.” *LL

Other sources for empty barrels: NovaBarrel ; Low-cost barrels with spigots – Eagle Peak Containers, Inc.

Another option for low cost rain barrels or empty drums is tocheck CraigsList. They are usually listed under Farm+Garden but may also be listed under miscellaneous for sale.

Making a rain barrel really only involves a few simple cuts with a drill and jig saw. If you aren’t comfortable with power tools, try calling your local hardware store and see what they will charge to make the cuts for you. Or ask that handy-man neighbor down the street or again, check on Craigslist.

2nd Comment: They are ugly

Response: You can really buy rain barrels to fit any type of garden d├ęcor. But here are some suggestions for how to decorate or hide a rain barrel.

3rd Comment: They breed mosquitoes

Response (from *LL) – “The chances of mosquitoes breeding can be eliminated by choosing a rain barrel carefully and by sealing connections during the installation. Mosquitoes tend to get into the rain barrels from the inlet and around the spigot and overflow.

 Use caulk and/or thread tape to seal the connections between the barrel and downspout extension, overflow tubing, and spigot. If the barrel has a screen top the gauge of the screen should be at least as narrow as a window screen. The entire perimeter of the screen should be tacked down with adhesive and also screwed in for added stability.” ~ *LL

4th Comment: They are difficult to connect

Response: Installation is pretty simple. We used a hacksaw to cut our downspout but here is a video of a woman who used her garden lops. Again, you might be able to find someone to help you on Craigslist and the video and instructions above do contain installation instructions.

Also, Aquabarrel and probably other companies will install them for you, for a fee.

5th Comment: Pressure too low to run a hose. Time consuming and difficult to use them to fill watering cans and water landscape with watering cans.

Response: I’ve never actually tried to attach a hose to ours. We use them primarily to fill watering cans. We also have a long PVC pipe that directs overflow to water loving plants.

But I did find this neat product online called the Rain Barrel Pump that says it is a simple, effective and inexpensive rain barrel pump. (And it was developed  right here in Arlington)

Also,  Kit Gage, Co-Director of the National Capital Region Watershed Stewards Academy, had this suggestion. "The promotion for rain barrels  should be primarily that they can be used by most homeowners to slow stormwater so it can infiltrate their lawn and garden rather than run off in a flash storm.  People should be encouraged to have a hose at the bottom set on slow leak with the hose ending up in a place the rain can absorb – a rain garden or conservation landscape, or a tree that likes water (sycamore, river birch, etc), and they don't have to think about it."

*LL added “Soaker hoses tend to work well with the barrels.  With the soaker hose you can just leave the spigot open and allow the water to drain over time into the planted areas.  Note the rigid hoses work well with the rain barrels. These usually come in black.  (The pressure in the barrel is insufficient to push through the green collapsible ones).   There are also small solar pumps that can be used in conjunction with the barrels.  Finally, elevating on cinder blocks or a platform helps with pressure."

6thComment: I’ve been waiting a long time to get mine from our local government program.

Response: (From *LL for DC residents ) The RiverSmart Homes rain barrel installations are not taking place as quickly as we had originally planned.  We apologize if the wait is longer than expected.  If you have been audited in January of 2011 or later, your barrels will be installed this fall.  If you were audited prior to January 2011 and have not received your barrels, give me a call as well and I will look into it.  If you are waiting and would like to know how much longer the wait will be, feel free to call me (202-654-6131).

"If you feel that you have not had any response from DDOE, please call me as well.  We try very hard to keep communication open with all homeowners from enrollment, to the stormwater audit, through installation and post-installation."

7th Comment: HOA rules or landlord won’t allow them.

Response: Share this blog with your HOA or landlord. They might specifically benefit from the Eco-Friendly Landscaping Quiz

Other products: During my research, I found other products that seem like they would help do the same job as a rain barrel, without taking up quite as much space, such as this Drought Buster Rainwater Distributor. My only suggestion before buying something like this is to read the online customer reviews.

To read more posts on this blog that mention rain barrels, click here

From front lawn to feast & flowers

Here's a nice article I found this morning, about, Stacey Marien, an acquisitions librarian at American University, who took the plunge and did what many of us dream of doing: she converted her front lawn into an herb and flower garden.

There’s a farmstead afoot in Washington’s AU Park 
~ written by By Sarah Stankorb, photo by Jeff Watts 

Stacey Marien, acquisitions librarian and gardener extraordinaire, has converted her front lawn into a lush herb and flower garden. She grows enough produce at her 500-square-foot community garden plot to avoid the stores from April through November. Between clematis, rock irises, rhubarb, and radishes, Marien has simultaneously created habitat for local birds and butterflies — and sustenance for her family. 

Marien grew up in New England, with a gardening mother who raised food for canning and pickling. Twelve years ago, when she moved to Washington, Marien took the plunge and became a gardener herself. Click here to read the rest of the article.

And read more about Stacey by visiting her blog, Fessenden Farmstead

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Help Build the FoodPrints Kitchen at Watkins Elementary

Found this online fundraiser and wanted to pass it along. Looks like a great cause.

Help DC school kids cook, eat, and live healthier lives—kick start a teaching kitchen!

Thanks to the FoodPrints local farm-to-school program, we have made a huge impact on kids’ attitudes towards food and eating healthy nutritious meals. Each year more than 200 first and third grade students at Watkins Elementary go home understanding good food can be fun, or as we like to say, “It’s COOL to eat kale.” (click here to see a curriculum overview)

In order to expand the hugely popular FoodPrints local food program and reach more kids at Watkins Elementary School, we have to have a kitchen—without it, we just can’t offer more classes or reach more students.

Read more, and learn how you can support this cause: Build the FoodPrints Kitchen

Monday, May 23, 2011

Upcoming Native Plant Sales

I found this great list of upcoming native plant sales on the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council Website.

Many of them are already past, but there are still some coming up and I'm sure they will be adding more as they hear about them.

June 3 & 4 – Millersville Native Plant Sale
Millersville, PA

June 25 – Nanticoke River Jamboree
Handsell – Vienna, MD

August 27 – Irvine Native Plant Seminar & Sale
Irvine Nature Center – Owings Mills, MD

September 9 & 10 – Environmental Concern Fall Native Plant Sale
Environmental Concern – St. Michaels, MD
September 17 & 18 – Adkins Arboretum Native Plant Sale
Ridgely, MD

Here's the link to the list, so keep checking back: Chesapeake Bay Region Native Plant Sales

Friday, May 20, 2011

In the footsteps of Rachel Carson

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ~ Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is one of my idols. I admire her not only for all of the work that she did, exposing the dangers of garden chemicals and pesticides to the world, but because I think she was a fantastic writer. I aspire to some day be able to write as eloquently as Rachel Carson, and with my words, inspire my readers to protect this beautiful planet that we live on.

For those of you who know nothing about Rachel Carson, she is credited by many as being the person who inspired the environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, about the impacts of pesticides on human and environmental health.

Although she was attacked and ridiculed by the pesticide industry, her research and conclusions were sustained by a Science Advisory Committee appointed during the Kennedy administration. State legislatures responded by introducing pesticide-regulating legislation. Silent Spring was translated into more than a dozen foreign languages. Rachel was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received many other honors. On April 14, 1964, she died in her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

On Sunday, May 22, there will be a talk entitled Gardening in the Footsteps of Rachel Carson, at 2:30 pm, at the Carderock Springs clubhouse, 8200 Hamilton Springs Road in Bethesda.

Dr. Diana Post, president of the Rachel Carson Council, will speak on gardening without pesticides and showing some photos from Ms. Carson's OWN gardens. . Also present will be Mitch Baker of American Plant, who will be available to answer questions on gardening and maintaining a lawn the organic way.

The program is free of charge but donations to the above council will be accepted. For more information contact

Here is an excerpt from my favorite Rachel Carson book, A Sense of Wonder, which was published posthumusely.

One stormy autumn night when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn't-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy -- he a baby meeting for the first time the wild tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of half a lifetime of sea love in me. But I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the roaring ocean and the wild night around us. 

Native Plants vs Exotics class - May 21st

The talk below is one in a series of classes but you can attend them individually as well. There is still space for tomorrow's talk, pay on site $5 Prince George's County residents, $6 for non-county residents. Located at Watkins Nature Center in Watkins Regional Park, address and phone number listed below.

Saturday, May 21, 10-11:30 am 
Sustainable Gardening Series: Native Plants vs. Exotics 
Join a Prince George's County Master Gardener for a series of classes that focus on organic, chemical-free, and sustainable gardening practices. The topic of this class is "Native Plants vs. Exotics".

Watkins Nature Center
Watkins Regional Park
301 Watkins Park Drive
Upper Marlboro, 20774

Last week to register for JUNE Saturday family program at WYG

The Washington Youth Garden's family program, Growing Food…Growing Together teaches gardening education and healthy cooking skills for the whole family. Each week features a local chef cooking a delicious dish from what we harvest (chefs are listed on our website). Families also harvest and take home a bag of organic vegetables. This is a free program, happening every Saturday through September from 9:30am-12:30pm.

Families can sign up to come to just a few sessions or to come every week. We ask for families who would like to attend a June Saturday to sign up by the end of this week. So please give us a call soon if you'd like to join us.

Registration at the above link – or call 202-245-2709.

Kacie Warner
Education Coordinator
Washington Youth Garden
Friends of the National Arboretum
office: 202-245-2709

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Women - Grow a Pair, Save Water

Word on the street (and on the internet) is that Budweiser, the King of Beers, is doing their part for the environment by encouraging men to quit shaving to save water. Their slogan is Grow One. Save a Million. And their theory is that if each man decides to grow a beard between now and World Environment Day, that we can save a million gallons of water.

Well, I think women can go one better. Instead of just growing one, we can grow a pair - and do our part to save TWO million gallons.

ST. LOUIS. May 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Budweiser is asking adult men across America to help save one million gallons of water by not shaving in the days and weeks leading up to World Environment Day (June 5). As part of Budweiser's ongoing commitment to water conservation, the Grow One. Save a Million program allows consumers to get involved and save roughly 5 gallons of water for each shave they skip.* 

Consumers 21 years of age and older can visit Budweiser's Facebook page ( to make a pledge and share the program with Facebook friends. Participants can commit to a range of options, from a few days to multiple weeks. Ladies can get involved by recruiting male friends or family members.   The page also features a daily tracker of the gallons saved to date. 

"Water is a key ingredient in the brewing of Budweiser and all our beers, which is why water conservation is a priority both inside and outside our breweries," said Kathy Casso, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Anheuser-Busch. "In the past three years alone, our 12 U.S. breweries have reduced water use by 34 percent. Additionally, our employees and their families take action by volunteering to participate in local river cleanup projects in communities across the country."

Well as women, I think we can do them one better. After all, we have two legs, don't we? And that adds up to a lot more surface area to shave then men have.

So, I'm calling on the women of the world to unite. Between now and World Environment Day, which is June 5th, I'm encouraging all women of the world to quit shaving! That's right, get hairy for the cause. Don't just grow one. Grow a Pair!!! Sure, it's summer and our legs are out there for the whole world to see. But it's for a good cause.

We'll show them.

P.S. If you would rather do your part for water conservation without looking like a Yeti, visit the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog and check out all of our great posts on Water Conservation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DC Urban Farm Bike Tour - May 21st

This sounds like so much fun, just had to pass it along! It's a bike tour, to some really cool community gardens and farms, followed by a happy hour. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

The 12-mile bike tour will travel between 5 dynamic, urban growing spaces around the nation's capital.

The day begins at 1pm at the Mamie D. Lee community garden (100 Gallatin St., NE) in Fort Totten. By 6pm, we will have made our way by bicycle to the Washington Youth Garden, The Farm at Walker Jones, the Marion Street Intergenerational Garden, and Common Good City Farm for tours, talks, and workshops — all activities are free and open to the public.

Things will wind down with a happy hour at Big Bear Cafe, featuring seasonal cocktails and other tasty goodies. (Note: you'll need to bring a little cash for food and drink at the happy hour.)

Please bring a bike lock, water bottle, and helmet. More details can be found here. For questions, or to RSVP, please contact Ibti.

Read more about A Bikeable Feast here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learn to Create Backyard Wildlife Habitat - Webinar - May 19th, 8pm

If you have followed this blog for very long, you know that Wildlife Moves Me! I love having wildlife visit my backyard and I love encouraging other people to garden for wildlife. Birds, butterflies and hummingbirds are some of my favorites, and the more yards that they have to visit, the better chance there is for attracting them to my neighborhood.

As part of May as Wildlife Gardening Month, Eliza Russell, director of Education Programs for the National Wildlife Federation, will be hosting Creating a Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard, a webinar, on Thursday, May 19th at 8:00 pm EST.  

If you are ready to learn how to green your garden and help wildlife, tune in to this great webinar!

Join National Wildlife Federation's Director of Education, Eliza Russell, and homeowners to learn how you can take the steps to create a more wildlife-friendly garden at your home, in a park, at your church, or at your place of business.  

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard webinar will discuss:
  • Creating a site inventory and analysis: What do you already have to work with?
  • How to add more wildlife friendly features
  • Adding native plants to support wildlife
  • Providing the 4 essentials elements for wildlife - food, water, cover, and places to raise young
  • Using sustainable gardening practices to help your garden grow

Click here to register: Register Here

Enjoying the Birds and the Bees in Your Own Backyard - Attracting Pollinators

What do flowers, fine chocolates and flavorful coffee have to do with the birds and the bees?

Both chocolate and coffee are two of the 1000+ plants that depend on visits from the birds and the bees, and other pollinators, to help spread the love, or in their case, pollen, from flower to flower. In fact, it is estimated that about 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollination (as opposed to wind pollination) and over 200,000 species of animals participate in the pollinating. Without pollinators, many plants would never produce fruit or set seed and many of the foods we eat would no longer be available. As if a world lacking chocolate and coffee wouldn’t be bad enough, wild creatures that rely on pollinated plants for food and shelter could also disappear.

Like so many other species, some pollinators are showing steady population declines. Although the declines in honeybee populations are mainly due to diseases, declines in wild pollinator populations are attributed to habitat loss, competition from invasive species and exposure to pesticides.

Fortunately, we can do our part to correct the problem by inviting the birds and the bees to our own backyards. Simply choosing the right plants and eliminating chemicals in our landscapes will invite more pollinators, which in turn will bring more flowers, more fruit and a new level of enjoyment to a garden filled with colorful, winged wonders.

The most popular pollinators are already some of our favorite garden visitors – butterflies and hummingbirds. Other pollinators include beetles, bees, ants, wasps, moths and even small mammals.

So how do we attract these pollinators? Plant what they love!

To attract more pollinators to your yard, keep these things in mind:
  • Choose plants with overlapping bloom times to provide flowers throughout the year
  • Select plants with a variety of colors and shapes to attract different pollinators
  • Plant in clumps, rather than single plants
  • Whenever possible, choose native plants.  Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “doubled” flowers, as the pollen, nectar, and fragrance is sometimes unwittingly bred out of these plants in exchange for “perfect” blooms
  • Include night-blooming flowers for moths and bats.
  • Avoid pesticides, even so-called "natural" ones such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). If you must use them, use the most selective and least toxic ones and apply them at night when most pollinators aren't active.

Include some  favorite plant choices for pollinators in your garden (see lists below). And then pull up a lawn chair and treat yourself to a little coffee and chocolate while you enjoy the birds and bees in your own back yard.

For more information:

Creating a Wild Backyard – Hummingbirds, Butterflies & Bees – Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Creating a Wild Backyard – Bees – Maryland Department of Natural Resources

U.S. Forest Service – Celebrating Wildflowers: Pollinators –

Pollinator Partnership –

Pollinator Conservation Resources – Mid-Atlantic Region

Learn More About Pollinators – Chesterfield County, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rain barrels for DC residents - answers to some of your questions

Yesterday I posted a question  asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. The responses gave me some good food for thought and sent me on a quest to find some more info and possible solutions for our readers.

Here is some great information that I received from Leah Lemoine, Environmental Protection Specialist with the District Department of the Environment:

Many new rain barrel styles have entered the market in the past few years, but choosing one that will perform well can be daunting. There are several design features homeowners should consider before purchasing a rain barrel. I hope to shed light on rain barrels and also assistance for homeowners who may be ready to go ahead and begin capturing their roof runoff for later reuse.

The chances of mosquitoes breeding can be eliminated by choosing a rain barrel carefully and by sealing connections during the installation. Mosquitoes tend to get into the rain barrels from the inlet and around the spigot and overflow.

Use caulk and/or thread tape to seal the connections between the barrel and downspout extension, overflow tubing, and spigot. If the barrel has a screen top the gauge of the screen should be at least as narrow as a window screen. The entire perimeter of the screen should be tacked down with adhesive and also screwed in for added stability.

Other design features to consider are:

1. Overflow: The overflow should be at least 2” in diameter to avoid water spilling out of the barrel near the foundation.

2. Volume: The bigger the better. A typical row house (800 square feet) will have nearly 500 gallons of runoff during a 1” rain storm.

3. Spigot: Spigot no higher than ~3” from bottom of barrel to eliminate dead space.

Installation can be a cinch with the right tools. Homeowners will need downspout extension to connect the barrel and downspout, a hack saw to cut the downspout and drill to fasten the downspout extensions and overflow. The following guide provides step-by-step directions for installing rain barrel: Instructions for Installing a Rain Barrel. If any homeowners need additional assistance, they are welcome to contact me for additional resources.

The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is committed to facilitating the wide-spread use of rain barrels throughout the DC. DDOE offers two programs- RiverSmart Homes and the Rain Barrel Rebate- which are designed to make rain barrel installation easy and cost effective for homeowners. The RiverSmart Homes program offers homeowners up to two rain barrels for $30 each. The beauty of the RiverSmart Homes program (besides the bargain price of $30) is that our nonprofit partner, DC Greenworks, will install the rain barrels for you. These barrels have a capacity of 130 gallons, are constructed from a durable black recycled plastic, and have a fine filter inside which eliminates any chances of mosquitoes breading in the barrel. Homeowners may enroll in RiverSmart Homes by filling out our online application or by contacting me.

We did have a pause in rain barrel installations over the winter. We apologize to any homeowner who has been waiting for a rain barrel for longer than they were expecting. The rain barrel installations are back in full swing and we hope to eliminate the backlog soon. The Rain Barrel Rebate program is a good option for homeowners who would rather install their own barrel, do not have enough space for the RiverSmart barrel, or do not wait to wait for the stormwater audit that is required through RiverSmart. A list of approved barrels and application materials can be found here: The Rain Barrel Rebate Program.

I hope this helps! Please have your readers contact me at 202.654.6131 or with any questions they may have. 

Wow!! Rain barrels for $30! That's a price that should make rain barrel believers out of a lot more gardeners!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Benefits of rain barrels

Rain barrels capture and store the rainwater running off your rooftop. The harvested rainwater can be stored for later use,  or used immediately for watering lawns and landscaped areas, filling ponds or fountains, or washing cars. This stored water helps to save money and it really comes in handy during times of mandatory water restrictions.

Rain barrels require little maintenance and—with the rising price of municipal water—are a great way to save money and conserve water as a natural resource.

 By collecting  runoff from rooftops, rain barrels can also prevent stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff is caused when heavy rains  run directly into streets and storm sewers, carrying it (and the pollutants it collects) directly to the local waterways.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a rebate to help cover the purchase price of your rain barrel.  In DC, see the RiverSmart Homes site; In Montgomery County, see Rainscapes Rewards; in Gaithersburg, Rainscapes Rewards; Rockville – Rainscapes Rewards.

Rain barrels are fun and easy to build and there are lots of rain barrel workshops in the area:  Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Registration

 You can build your own, without a workshop: Rain Barrel Assembly (pdf)

Or you can buy one, readymade: Local Rain Barrel Sources

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring Native Plant Sale - May 14th

The Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society will be holding their Spring Native Plant Sale this Saturday, May 14th, from 9 a.m.  to 3 p.m.

More than 40 vendors of rare and unusual plants will be on hand, offering ferns, perennials for sun and shade, trees and shrubs  from the propagation area behind the Horticulture Center at Green Spring Gardens.

All money raised supports the chapter's educational and conservation efforts!

Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road – Alexandria, Virginia 22312

For directions:

10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Honey Bees

Ahhhh, there is nothing quite like a little bit of coffee and chocolate to brighten the day!

As I sip and nibble, delighting in the heady aroma and sweet, savory flavors, my mind always wanders to the birds and the bees. Why? Because both chocolate and coffee are two of the 1000+ plants that depend on visits from the birds and the bees (and other pollinators) to help spread the love, or in their case, pollen, from flower to flower.

I love wandering through my garden and hearing the buzz of the visiting bees. But bees have many more talents that just pollinating our plants.

Here is a list of 10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Honey Bees, which I collected from the Health Benefits of Honey Blog:

1) Bees tongues can help sniff out bombs – A company called Inscentinel Ltd. has developed Vapor Detection Instrumentation, which is scientific speak for a couple of bees taped to a piece of foam. The bees stick out their tongues when they smell an odor they have been trained to detect.

2) Honey bees can recognize faces – the honey bee, with a brain barely bigger than a pin head, can remember human faces for days after seeing them.

3) Bees are the only insects that produce edible food for humans (did you know that honey is actually bee puke? Ugh)

4) Some working bees can lift (in addition to their own bodies) 100% of their body weight.

5) Bees have been around (100 million years) much longer than humans (7 million years).

6) The queen bee lives up to 40 times longer than a worker bee.

7) The ONLY purpose in life, for the male bee, is to "service" the queen bee — and then he dies.

8) 3400 honey bees were taken on a NASA space flight.

9) Honey bees only use their stinger on vertebrates. When the bees are up against an invertebrate (such as a wasp) the worker bees will cluster around the insect and literally flex their muscles until the resulting heat kills the intruder. And if the heat doesn’t kill them, the lack of oxygen surely will.

10) The origin of the word honeymoon – In days of old, newlyweds were given a month’s worth of mead – a honey based booze – which they were to drink daily. The tradition was believed to promote matrimonial happiness and pregnancy… both things alcohol is very good at. We’ve been honeymooning ever since.

Stop back by on Monday when we'll have a post on How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Here's a sharp idea! Get your garden tools in shape for the season - May 14th

Keeping your lawn mower blade sharpened is good for your lawn and good for the planet. According to experts at the Virginia Cooperative Extension, "The quickest way to improve lawn quality AND turf health is to clip it with a sharp blade, and a sharp blade will also improve fuel-use efficiency and extend engine life."

Sharpened blades are especially important during mid to late Spring, when cool-season grasses in the area form tough seedheads. Tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and the fine-leaf fescues are all producing flowers and seed during this time of year in response to temperature, day length, and moisture. These tough seedhead stalks are designed for support and are much tougher to mow.

Clipping grass with a dull mower usually results in turf that initially has a ‘whitish’ cast (from the shredded leaf and seedhead tips) that ultimately becomes a ‘brown or tan’ cast as the damaged tissues slowly age and die. So, one way to immediately improve quality for most is to simply sharpen the blades. How often should one sharpen the blades? On average, most homeowners in Virginia should plan on sharpening their blades at least 3 times during the growing season.

With that in mind, I wanted to pass along this message I saw on a local gardening message board:

Back By Popular Demand - Saturday Morning John Vecciarrelli Will Offer Sharpening Services Next to Takoma DC Branch Library - 6900 Block of 5th St. N.W.

John Vecciarrelli's father Tony made his living sharpening knives, lawnmower blades, handmower blades and other tools all around the city. When John retired a few years ago, he began driving his dad's workshop in an old green step van to events around town, offering the same sharpening services.

Responding to requests from folks who couldn't come to last month's visit, this Saturday, May 14, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., John will again be parked on the 6900 block of 5th Street NW, between Cedar and Butternut, next to the Takoma DC branch library. If your mower hasn't been sharpened in years, or you've never known the joys of digging with a sharpened spade or trowel, you may want to come on over.

For more information, contact Dodie Butler, 202-643-6343.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Anacostia Watershed Tree Planting Event - May 14th

On Saturday, May 14, 2011, The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments  DEP is hosting a tree planting with the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission – Prince George’s County, in Riverdale, MD from 9:00 A.M. to Noon.

We have 150 trees to plant and mulch and could use your assistance.  This is an especially great opportunity for students to gain community service credit hours while learning about the environment in their region.

Come and get some exercise to start your Saturday and learn about the Anacostia Watershed and Chesapeake Bay Restoration efforts.

The planting site is located off Oglethorpe Street in the M-NCPPC  Riverside Neighborhood Park, next to the Northeast Branch.

To RSVP and for more information, contact Aubin Maynard, (202) 962-3233

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beneficial, drought tolerant plants for the Metro DC Area - Perennials, grasses, etc.

Beneficial Native Plants for the Metro DC Area
Plants marked with an * were selected as Favorite Native Plants by local experts
See code to abbreviations at bottom of list
Scientific Name Common Name Type Light DT Bi Bu Hu Fl Fr
Achillea millefolium Common yarrow Perennial Su X - X X X -
Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue star Perennial PS X - - - X -
Andropogon gerardii Big bluestem Grass Su-PS X X X - X -
Andropogon ternarius Split bluestem Grass Su-PS X X - - - -
*Aquilegia canadensis Wild columbine Perennial Su-FS X H X - X -
*Asclepias tuberosa Butterflyweed Perennial Su-PS X - X - X -
Baptisia tinctoria Wild indigo Perennial Su X - X - X -
*Campsis radicans Trumpet creeper Vine Su X H X - X -
Chamaecrista fasciculata Partridge Pea Annual Su-PS X X X - X -
Cimicifuga racemosa Black cohosh Perennial PS-Sh X - X - X -
Clitoria mariana Maryland butterfly pea Vine Su-PS X X - - X -
Coreopsis lanceolata Lanceleaf coreopsis Perennial Su- PS X - X - X -
Coreopsis verticillata Tickseed Perennial Su-FS X - X - X -
Delphinium tricorne Dwarf larkspur Perennial PS X - X - X -
Echinacea purpurea Purple coneflower Perennial Su-PS X - X X X -
Eragrostis spectabilis Purple lovegrass Grass Su X X - - - -
Eupatorium hyssopifolium Boneset Perennial Su X X - - X -
Gaillardia pulchella Firewheel, Indian Blanket Perennial Su-PS X - X - X -
Geranium maculatum Wild geranium Perennial PS-Sh X X - X X -
Helianthus divaricatus Woodland sunflower Perennial Su-Sh X X X - X -
Heliopsis helianthoides Oxeye sunflower Perennial Su X - X - X -
Heuchera Americana Alumroot Perennial PS-Sh X - - - X -
Iris Cristata Dwarf crested iris Perennial PS-Sh X H - - X -
Liatris spicata Gayfeather Perennial Su X - X - X -
Lobelia siphilitica Great blue lobelia Perennial Su-FS X H - - X -
Lonicera sempervirens Coral honeysuckle Vine Su, PS X H X - X -
*Mertensia virginica Virginia bluebells Perennial PS-FS X - - - X -
*Monarda didyma Red bergamot, beebalm Perennial Su-FS X H X X X -
*Monarda fistulosa Wild bergamot Perennial Su-PS X H X X X X
*Monarda punctata Horsemint Perennial Su X H X X X -
Oenothera biennis Evening primrose Biennial Su-Sh X H X X X X
Oenothera fruticosa Sundrops Perennial Su X X X - X -
*Panicum vigatum Switchgrass Grass Su X X - - - -
Passiflora incarnata Passionflower vine Vine Su-PS X X X X X -
Phlox divaricata Wild blue phlox Perennial Su-PS X - X - X -
Pityopsis graminifolia Golden aster Perennial PS X - X - X -
Polemonium reptans Jacob's Ladder Perennial Su-FS X - - - X -
Polygonatum biflorum Solomon’s seal Perennial PS-Sh X X X X X -
Pycnanthemum incanum Hoary mountain mint Perennial Su-PS X - X - X X
*Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan Perennial Su-PS X - X - X -
Salvia lyrata Lyre-leaved sage Perennial Su-Sh X H X - X -
Schizachyrium scoparium Little bluestem Grass Su-PS X X X - X -
Silphium perfoliatum Cup plant Perennial Su X H X - X -
Solidago rugosa Goldenrod Perennial Su X X X - X -
Tradescantia virginiana Virginia spiderwort Perennial Su-Sh X - X - X -
Trillium grandiflorum White trillium Perennial Su-Sh X - - X X -
Vernonia noveboracensis Ironweed Perennial Su X X X - X -
Viola pedata Bird’s foot violet Perennial PS-Sh X X X - X -

** Note: this list was created for the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog and may not be copied without permission. However, please feel free to link to this page and to subscribe to the blog for future lists.

Light: FS=Full Su, S=Su, Sh=Sh
Su Full Su: direct sulight at least six hours a day.
PS Partial Sh: direct sulight between three to six hours.
Sh Sh: less than three hours of direct sulight a day.
Benefits: W=Wildlife Value; Bi=Attracts birds; Bu=Attracts Butterflies; Hu=Human Value, edible or medicinal; Fr=Fragrant, Fl=Fowers

H in bird column signifies Hummingbirds. Plants which an X in the butterfly column are ofter HOST plants for specific butterfly species.

Sources: Xeriscaping and Conserving Water in the Landscape (PDF) – Maryland Cooperative Extension

Drought Tolerant Plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region (pdf) download from Charlottesville Water

Plant lists from: Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping, Virginia DCR

Most of the plant benefits were obtained from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Org. Native Plant Database

Drought tolerant native plants for Virginia

Drought Tolerant Perennials (PDF) – Clayton Virginia Native Plant Society

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