Thursday, June 30, 2011

Native Plants to Attract Pollinators - a Workshop for Children and Parents

The District Department of the Environment and the Department of Parks & Recreation, in partnership with Audubon MD/DC, are presenting two free workshops that will teach children and parents about  creating wildlife habitat in their backyards.

The topic of the first workshop is Native Plants to Attract Pollinators and is scheduled for Thursday, July 7th from 9am – 1pm at Lederer Children's Garden, 4801 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, NE.

The second workshop is Thursday, July 14th from 1pm – 4pm at the Aboretum Recreation Center, 2412 Rand Place NE.

The two workshops will consist of presentations and hands-on activities. Participants will help plant a garden and  will receive books, literature, a birdhouse kit and  live plants to get them started in creating a wildlife habitat at home.

You can register online on the DDOE website.

To learn more about attracting pollinators, read our post Enjoying the Birds and Bees.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Environmentalists need Shrinks? Here is my answer

There has been an article kicking around on the internet  called Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks. The article talks about a theory and subsequent research by  John Fraser, a psychologist, architect, and educator with the Institute for Learning Innovation, who thinks that environmentalists may be suffering an emotional toll from their strong beliefs and concerns for the planet.

"We're asking people to accept that something they have always believed is their passion is also something that's hurting them," Fraser was quoted as saying.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the article when I first read it.

But I've been feeling pretty stressed lately so I went out early this morning to take a walk. The sounds and sights of nature were just starting to unfurl the tight ball of tension inside me and clear all the conflicting "racket" and to-do tasks out of my mind when two female joggers came up behind me on the other side of the street.

Since they were running and I was walking, I only heard a few tiny bits of their conversation, but it was enough to take away my peace again.

I'm not sure what the topic at hand was, but one woman was telling the other one "I just pour the gasoline onto the ground and burn it until it is all gone and then keep repeating it."

For some reason, I assumed she was talking about ways to remove grass from her yard to create a garden. But she may have just as easily been talking about ways to get rid of old gasoline or kill insects.

In any case, my immediate reaction was that I wanted to pick up my pace, jog after them, and lecture them about Stormwater runoff, non-point source pollution and every human's responsiblity to keep chemicals out of our water supplies. The peace that I had just started to feel again after weeks of tension, was gone.

The article about Fraser's theory  immediately came to mind.

I thought about other times that I have driven after people who were throwing trash out their car windows, honking and waving my finger. I thought about the times that I have called government agencies and reported people for chopping down trees that they shouldn't. And I realized that there is some truth to what Fraser said.

But here is the bottom line and the answer to the question Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks . For me, nature is my shrink. It is the one place where I can go to unwind and de-stress  and get away from all of the other tensions in the world. So I DO need my shrink. And I need everyone else to quit abusing her.

Sugar as an eco-friendly weed control? Food for thought

I've written several posts about pet and animal safety in our gardens. One entitled Pets and Pesticides specifically detailed some of the research done on pesticides and how the can affect animals. The other one, called More Pet Safety in the Garden, talked about some of the other items we use in our gardens that can also harm our pets.

So when I saw a post today called Pet Friendly Weed Killers by Lori Thomas on, I had to check it out and see if I could learn anything new. I did.

The article states that SUGAR can be used as a pet-safe weed control. Since I had never heard that sugar can control weeds, I did a little more research to see if I could track down a reputable source for that statement.

Here are some excerpts form a study carried out at Charles Sturt University in Australia in 2005:

By Margrit Beemster, December 2005. 

Sugar has the potential to control annual weeds according to recent research trials conducted by researchers from Charles Sturt University. The researchers, ecologists Dr Suzanne Prober, Dr Ian Lunt and Dr Kevin Thiele, have applied sugar to trial plots for a project funded by the NSW Environmental Trust on how to restore understorey species in endangered Grassy White Box Woodlands. 

The researchers have found that sugar provides a good, short-term non-chemical and ecologically friendly method of weed control. "It appears sugar is a tool we can use to help change a system back to one dominated by native species rather than weeds,” says Dr Suzanne Prober who has been working to conserve and restore grassy white box woodlands for the past 15 years. Nearly all of the woodland belt, from southern Queensland to north-east Victoria is now used for agricultural purposes, principally wheat and sheep. 

So why does the sugar work? Because it is one of the fastest ways of reducing soil nitrate levels. Dr Prober’s compared soil nutrients in undisturbed woodlands and disturbed, degraded sites. She found the most striking difference between the two was in nitrate levels, which were extremely low in undisturbed remnants and high in degraded remnants. 

“It seems that many of our weed problems are due to high nutrient levels”, says Dr Prober. “There is an enormous amount of information on how to increase soil nitrogen to improve crop growth, but very little on doing the reverse. However there has been some research done overseas where sugar was used to tie up nitrogen levels for a short time.”  

The researchers, who spread half a kilogram of refined white sugar to each square metre of soil every three months, found this inhibited weed growth of most annual weeds giving the native plants the opportunity to become well-established. However more research is required to work out the optimum rate of application. “We realise that the sugar levels we used in our trials would not be economic to use over broad scales”, said Dr Prober, “but at the moment we don’t know if we would get similar results if we used less sugar or if we used cheaper alternatives such as molasses or sawdust”. 

So how does sugar reduce soil nutrients? “When sugar is spread on the soil, it feeds soil micro-organisms, which then absorb lots of soil nutrients as they grow,” explains Dr Ian Lunt from CSU’s Institute for Land, Water and Society. “The micro-organisms then hold these nutrients so the weeds can’t gobble them up. In effect we are ‘starving’ the weed species that require lots of nutrients to grow.” The lack of nutrients stopped the weeds from growing large, allowing the native plants, which can grow well in low nutrient levels, to grow bigger and faster. click here to read rest of article.

Whether or not sugar is a viable alternative for most of us in our search for earth-friendly ways to control weeds may require further research. But any method that adds fewer toxic chemicals to the ground certainly sounds like a sweet one to me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? Personally, I'd rather make salsa

I would guess that many of the 2,000 people that participated in the Copper Mountain Ski Resort Tomato Battle on Saturday have never even heard of the great cult classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. But their tomato toss wasn't intended to take over the world. It just gave the partiers a good excuse to drink beer and get dirty while throwing 300,000 pounds of over-ripe tomatoes at each other.

My husband is an avid skier, so we have seen many crazy events held at ski resorts around the country. But this is one I'm glad I missed!

But if you are looking for something to browse through while eating your  lunch, check out this slideshow of the Tomato Battle at Copper Mountain on

Note: According to the Tomato Battle website, all of the tomatoes thrown were overripe and would be thrown away, anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2011

From Aversion to Acceptance - how I learned to love poison ivy

 "In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous." ~ Aristotle

I took a long walk around our property this weekend and marveled at the beauty of all of the luscious green poison ivy.

I had a bad run-in with the weed years ago, back when we first bought our little plot of land. The rash and the accompanying welts were horrible and from that day forward, I had waged a fruitless battle against the villain that had caused me so much agony.

I am a "green" gardener. I try my best not to harm the planet in any way. In most aspects of my gardening, I avoid harsh chemicals at all costs.

My deep love of the natural world, in fact, makes me appreciate, admire, and want to protect almost every bit of living matter in the world, regardless of its inherent admirable qualities or lack, thereof.

But the poison ivy was the exception. I not only bought herbicides, but I bought the full strength, super-noxious concoctions that were said to kill even the toughest weeds – including the much-maligned poison ivy. I would cover my body in long pants and sleeves and head out, spraying the chemical compounds on the bright green leaves, wishing death upon them.

My attempts were mostly futile. The beautiful green plant thrived and continued its journey up my trees and across the back edges of our land.

My whole relationship with poison ivy was causing me personal angst:  My fear and loathing of it;  The fact that it had encouraged me to go against my personal beliefs and spray poisons on the planet; and the  sense of defeat that I always felt when it continued to thrive despite my best efforts to control it.

But two things occurred this weekend that made me change my mind about this pervasive plant.

The first was a visit from my young friend Jaden. Jaden is the grandson of a friend of mine, and when he comes to visit, his dad sits and visits with my husband and Jaden and I go out to explore the natural world around our property. We had been walking through the grassy area of our yard for only a few moments, headed toward the tadpole pond, when Jaden said, “My legs already itch from the poison ivy.”

Now the thing is, there is no poison ivy anywhere near where we were walking. The poison ivy is only at the far edges of our piece of land and we were nowhere near it. But I had put the thought of poison ivy into Jaden’s head on a previous visit, when we were out walking in that area, and I had made this self-proclaimed “nature boy”  think negative thoughts about being outside in nature.

But the other thing that occurred this weekend that made me decide to change my mind about poison ivy was a wonderful op-ed piece I read in the online edition of the LaTimes called Poison Ivy: Everything You Need to Know and More, by Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer, Deborah Blum.

It’s a beautifully written article, and I encourage anyone who enjoys good prose to read the whole piece. But here are some highlights that helped to change my mind about poison ivy:

And poison oak and ivy — if one can manage objectivity — really are ornamental and startlingly pretty, especially when they unfurl crimson leaves in the spring or blaze into fiery copper in autumn. In fact — and this is confirmed by the website at Monticello — President Thomas Jefferson once ordered poison ivy as a decorative vine for the garden of his beloved Virginia home…. 

The plants' ability to be everywhere makes them a dependable meal for species ranging from insects to deer. Poison ivy vines produce tiny greenish-white flowers and silvery winter berries. Wild bees feed on poison ivy flowers, and no, the honey is not toxic. Wild birds depend on those waxy berries in the winter — among the varieties known to feed on them are woodpeckers and warblers, wrens and robins, blue birds, sapsuckers and, I mention this one because I love the name, the tufted titmouse.

Blum does go on to list some of the negative aspects of this pervasive plant, including the news that scientists predict that it may become more toxic as it adapts to climate change.

But her description of the beauty of the plant was enough to help me change my mind. Suddenly, my strong desire to eliminate this species from our property seemed as ridiculous as wanting to wipe out all the bees and yellow jackets (which are such important pollinators ), all the mosquitoes (which feed the birds and dragonflies and bats) or even all the roses (that help to feed my soul), because they have sometimes caused me pain.

So I decided to give poison ivy another chance. I took my little garden stool outside and sat near a thriving little patch and I just looked at its deep green foliage and its strange hairy roots. I kept my distance. I didn’t tempt fate. But my fear and loathing gradually disappeared and were replaced with a guarded appreciation of the plant. I’ve decided to let it stay.

Oh, I’ll give it the same wide berth that I give snakes and yellow jackets when I see them, but I already feel better about my change in attitude. I’ll have one less toxic chemical in my yard and one more beautiful, wildlife-feeding  plant. It seems like a win-win situation.

**Note: poison ivy can certainly cause a lot of miserable anguish. If you have it on your property in an area that does not allow you to avoid and appreciate it, see my previous post Tips for Dealing With Poison Ivy in the Winter Garden.

If you decide, like me, to give up your herbicides, here’s a post that will help you find a site for proper disposal.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Help Count Butterflies! This weekend and throughout the summer

The 37th annual North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Butterfly Count is underway! These annual counts are a lot of fun but are also important ways to track the butterfly populations of North America. Tracking butterflies, and other wildlife, are great ways to help determine the impact of both good and bad landscaping practices.

During the Butterfly Count, volunteers conduct a one-day census of all butterflies sighted within a specified area. Local butterfly groups and other wildlife experts generally help facilitate the counts.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) organizes the counts and publishes their annual reports. These reports provide important information about the geographical distributions and population sizes of the species counted. .

No matter how much or how little butterfly watching you've done, the results of butterfly counting can be surprising and interesting. There are several counts being conducted in the DC/VA/MD area this summer.
  • Western Montgomery County is having theirs this weekend. (See below)
  • The Reston, VA count will be Saturday, July 2 from 9:30 AM to 12:45 PM. It will meet at the Walker Nature Education Center, located at 11450 Glade Drive. Please email: or call 703-476-9689 and press 5 to sign up. There will be an introductory class on Thursday, June 30 from 7:00-8:30 PM also at the nature center. Reservations are required by June 27. It is free for count participants or $5 per person for those not participating in the count.
  • Richmond Counts will be on July 9th - email for more info
  • West Anne Arundel County July 9th - email
  • Loudon Wildlife Conservancy is having theirs on August 6, 2011.
Use this map to find the dates and locations for more counts in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Please considering joining one of them for a day of fascinating butterfly counting.

For more information on the count program, please consult NABA's website at

To learn more about local butterflies, see our pages on: Butterflies of DC, Butterflies of Maryland, and Butterflies of Virginia

And to do your part to help INCREASE the number of butterflies in the area for next year's count, read : Create a Butterfly Garden

Western Montgomery County Butterfly Count
  • Who: No experience is necessary, and young (ages 12 and up) to old are invited to come out and have fun while contributing to butterfly study and conservation. Teams will be formed with at least one person skilled in butterfly identification who will head up the team. We encourage you to count for at least a couple of hours, but you don’t need to commit to a full day.
  • When: Saturday, June 25 Meet at 9:00 am outside the Visitors' Center at Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD; or near the impoundments at Hughes Hollow (McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area) near Poolesville, MD
  • Where: The count circle includes several natural areas in western Montgomery County,including Little Bennett and Black Hill Regional Parks; Sugarloaf Mountain, Seneca Creek State Park; some areas along the C&O Canal.
  • Counting fee: $3 for ages 12 and older. (Not for children under age 12, given heat, open sun, and tall vegetation.) This fee is passed along to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) to cover the costs of coordinating the counts and compiling the data.
  • Equipment: Wear comfortable field clothing, remembering the seasonal realities of a hot sun in open meadows, poison ivy, ticks, and the possibility of biting insects. Bring lots of water, lunch and a pocket note pad, as well as a butterfly field guide and binoculars, if you have them. Cameras and insect nets are optional. Any netting of insects will be “catch and release” for identification only.
  • Please contact: Stephanie Mason, 301-652-9188, Ext. 37 or if you plan to participate or have any questions. The Audubon Naturalist Society organizes this local count, which is part of the 37-year national count sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association and the Xerces Society.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Workshop on Drip Irrigation - June 25th

Drip irrigation systems are a wonderful way to conserve water by directing water right where you need it the most!

There will be a workshop this Saturday at Common Good City Farm for a workshop on installing your own drip irrigation system!

When: Saturday, June 25, 10:30am-12:30pm.
What: Drip...drip - Drip Irrigation for the Patio & Small Garden.
Where: At Common Good City Farm On V Street, NW, between 2nd and 4th Streets, NW

A hands on workshop for your own drip irrigation system guaranteed to stop your "water worries" on those long weekends or vacation in August.
  • Participants will learn how to assemble a low cost drip system.
  • Participants will evaluate a variety of dripper and mini-sprinklers suitable for patios and small gardens.
  • Participants should be able to go home, order, and install a small custom system for less than $125.
  • Participants will tour Common Good City Farm's drip system which was installed by the instructor.
  • Principles learned will be adaptable to larger gardens and orchards.
Teacher: Murray Schmechel is a retired life long gardener who has been "dripping" for the last 15 years. He has helped numerous neighbors become "drip" enthusiasts. He is part of the Common Good City Farm staff.

Register Now!

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Workshop - June 25th

The District Department of the Environment, Audubon MD/DC and Audubon-At-Home are pleased to announce their first Backyard Wildlife Habitat Workshop of 2011. In partnership with the Hillcrest Community Civic Association and the East Washington Heights Baptist Church, a four hour workshop that includes presentations on gardening with native plants, site selection, garden design and plant selection will be held. The planting of a butterfly garden with native flowers and shrubs will also take place.

Participants will receive live plants, books, literature and a birdhouse kit to help them start their own gardens at home. The workshop will begin at 9:00 am on Saturday June 25 at East Washington Heights Baptist Church (2220 Branch Avenue SE). This workshop is free.

Please RSVP to:

More workshops will follow. Please check (click on backyard habitat education) for the full 2011 schedule. Online registration will be available for future workshops.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eco-Friendly Tips for the Summer Landscape

I thought this great scarecrow that my friends Jim and Glennie Duke made was a fitting illustration for my first day of summer post.

Jim and Glennie also created the cute scarecrow couple in my post about Scarecrows and Other Natural Bird Control.

For Summer tips, I've chosen some from The University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center e-newsletter and added links to some of my previous articles on the subjects.

The entire Extension Center Newsletter can be downloaded here, in pdf format.

Tips for Summer Landscape Care
• Follow proper mowing techniques to help your lawn through the dog days of summer.

• For crabgrass and other summer weeds, try eco-friendly options for weed control or try some Zen weeding.

• Mid-August through mid-October is the best time to start new lawns and renovate or overseed existing lawns. Maryland Extension recommends a turf-type tall fescue cultivar at a rate of 4 lbs. of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. of area for overseeding, or 8 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for new lawns. If your lawn area contains more than 50% weeds, consider a total lawn renovation. Newly seeded turf must be watered regularly. (HG 102) . Click here to learn more about Selecting Turfgrass. This post on the University of California website will allow you to find more detailed information on each species: Information about Turfgrass Species.

• Keep newly planted trees or shrubs well watered through dry weather this summer. Thoroughly soak the root ball every few days. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch is helpful. Keep mulch away from the trunk or stem.

• Attract beneficial insects to your landscape by planting a wide variety of flowering annuals and perennials that will bloom over the entire growing season. Good choices are plants in the following families: daisy (marigolds, daises, asters, mums), carrot (dill, fennel, anise, yarrow, parsley) and mint (all mints and thymes).

• Slugs are found on all types of flowering plants. Feeding damage ranges from just a few holes to the entire plant stripped of its foliage in a few nights. Slime trails are a definitive sign of slug activity. Trap with shallow pans of yeast added to water or beer, then discard. Diatomaceous earth, sharp sand or ground crab and oyster shell can also be applied around plants as physical barriers.

• Control weeds by laying down entire sections of newspaper covered with straw or last fall’s mulched leaves.

• Cut back herbs through the summer to keep plants bushy and productive. Essential oils are most concentrated right before bloom. Don’t fertilize herbs as it encourages succulent growth and dilutes essential oils.

• It’s time to begin thinking of fall vegetables. Plant broccoli and cauliflower seed in containers the 3rd to 4th week in June for transplanting into the ground mid July through mid August.

Earthworms are a sign of healthy soil and are normally seen in the greatest numbers in fall and spring. Adding organic matter in the form of composted leaves, manure, grass clippings, etc. will improve soil structure and attract earthworms.

• Select shredded pine bark or hardwood mulches, not wood chips, for use around your home to minimize the possibility of attracting termites. Avoid any mulches that contain chunks of wood.

• Summer is snake mating season, their most active time of year. Snakes are beneficial creatures and should not be harmed. The most likely encountered large snake is the Black Rat Snake. It can grow to be about 5 feet long and is found in both rural and suburban areas.

• Rabbits can be a destructive nuisance in flower and vegetable gardens, feeding on young and tender plants. They can be excluded with a low, 2 ft. high fence that is secured to the ground. You can also repel them with commercial repellents, bloodmeal, or by sprinkling hot pepper flakes around plants. Or, you can just accept them for the great organic weed control that they provide.

• Prevent deer from feeding on garden and landscape plants, by applying a repellent, such as “Deer-Away”, “Liquid Fence”, “Deer-Off”, “Hinder” or “Ro-Pel” to vulnerable plants. Polywire fencing connected to an inexpensive, solar-powered charger can successfully exclude groundhogs and deer.

• As the summer progresses and temperatures rise and rainfall decreases, cool season lawns usually become dormant. Dormancy is a normal plant response causing them to stop growing and turn brown. Established lawns will not die and watering is not recommended. Newly seeded or newly sodded areas will still need watering.

• Late crops of beans, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, and cucumbers can be direct sown through the end of July.

• Bare soil is very prone to erosion from summer thunder storms. Prevent this by covering the soil with mulch, groundcovers, or turf.

Mosquitoes are always a summer time nuisance at any outside activity. Reduce mosquito populations by eliminating standing water. Change bird bath water frequently, and empty buckets, lids, garden furniture and toys. The Asian tiger mosquito requires very little water for breeding. Back yard ponds stocked with fish or moving water (fountains or filters) should not contribute to a mosquito problem. However, to be certain, B.t. dunks can bin the pond for mosquito control.

• August is frequently dry. Water deeply by allowing water to soak the soil directly underneath and around newly planted trees and shrubs. Check the depth of water penetration into the soil by digging a small hole after watering. Hard-crusted mulch will repel water and needs to be broken up with a rake or hoe to help the rain and irrigation water to penetrate the soil.

• Late August through September is usually a good time to transplant, divide and plant perennials such as daylily, liriope, and Echinacea. Be sure to keep them well watered during dry periods. If hot, dry conditions persist wait to divide your perennials.

• Do not fertilize shade trees, fruit trees or shrubs in late summer. Fertilization in August is very likely to stimulate new growth at a time when plants are beginning to enter dormancy and could result in excessive winter damage.

• Many kinds of interesting invertebrates live in a compost pile including manure worms, centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs, and pseudoscorpions. They are part of the composting ecosystem and should be appreciated, not feared. Do not attempt to spray or otherwise kill these beneficial critters.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to visit flowers and nectar feeders. Keep nectar feeders clean and change nectar solution frequently during hot weather to prevent spoiling.

National Pollinator Week Activities Starting today - Bee there!

I love pollinators. These birds, bees and butterflies play an important role in many of the foods that we eat and the flowers that we love. But like many species, pollinators can be impacted by the practices that we carry out in our own yards.

Five years ago the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated the final week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marking a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week, which is June 20th -26th this year, has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

To learn more about the importance of pollinators and how to attract them to your own yard, read my posts Enjoy the Birds and Bees in Your Own Backyard and Gardening for Hummingbirds, and Create a Butterfly Garden.

For even more information, plan on attending some of these activities in the area which have been planned for National Pollinator Week.

June 20th - 24th, 10:00 am - 1pm daily  
Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave, Wheaton, MD 20902
Learn about pollination and pollinators, vote for your favorite pollinator, play "I Spy" pollinator scavenger hunt, plant a flower to attract pollinators in your garden.
Contact Lynn Richard , lynn.richard@montgomeryparks

June 21, 2011 - 10:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.  
USDA Bee Research Laboratory, Bldg 476, Entomology Road, Beltsville, MD 20705
The BRL will host an open house for the public to highlight honey bee research activities conducted at the nation’s capital by the USDA Agriculture Research Service. Visit the lab and hear about our research, advanced beekeeping techniques, and how to identify bee diseases. A detailed agenda and directions to the lab will be posted on our web site during May. Contact - Bart Smith ,

Tuesday June 21, 2011, 11am-3pm  
Smithsonian's National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Come explore the exciting world of pollinators! All the fun takes place behind the Invertebrate Exhibit. Discover which of your favorite snacks you wouldn’t have without the helpful honeybee and its wild relatives. And taste the difference a plant makes when it comes to honey at our Pollination and Food table. Butterflies are more than just beautiful, they are pollinators too! Learn all about how they do it at our Butterfly table. Discover the secret language of color that plants and pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, use to communicate. You can even make your own pollination pinwheel at our activity table. Sure, you’ve heard of honeybees and bumblebees, but did you know there are thousands of other types of bees buzzing around in your backyard? Learn all about how these bees live and help keep our planet green at our Bee table.
Contact : Amy Rutherford, ,
Don't Miss These Keeper Talks
11:30 – Native Bees
12:30 – Butterflies
1:30 – Hummingbirds
2:30 – Flower Power

June 25th, 2011 - 10am - 2pm  
University of Maryland Extension, Salisbury Zoo, Salisbury, MD 21801
The Maryland Master Gardeners will have a display on pollinators - high lighting butterflies. plants and flowers that provide nectar and pollin will also be on display. A local bee keeper and the University of Maryland State Specialist will also be there with handouts and live bees.
Following the Pollinators Day, a local bee keeper and Ginny Rosenkranz, Extension Educator, will create a video on beekeeping, finding Queens, opening up a hive and talking about the plants that need pollinators to provide us with the vegetables and fruits of summer. the video will be available as Delmarva Gardens - pollinators.
Contact Ginny Rosenkranz  

Virginia, By proclamation, Governor Robert F. McDonnell declared June 20-26, 2011 as Pollinator Week in the State of Virginia.

June 25, 2011 - Noon - 5pm
Rockwood Backyard Beekeeper Association, Rockwood Nature Center 3401 Courthouse Road, North Chesterfield, VA 23236
Celebrate the role of honeybees and other pollinators in agriculture and our ecosystem. Knowledgeable speakers will offer presentions on an array of current and interesting topics such as basic beekeeping, native bees and how to attract them, what's happening to our bees, landscaping for pollinators, and more. Children's and Family Activities Include: Arts and Crafts, Games, Contests, Prizes, Facepainting, Array of honey and other products will be available for sampling and sale. Contact: Kristi Orcutt; Ken Woodard,,

June 25 and 26, 2011  
Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, Bon Air Park; Wilson Blvd & N. Lexington St., Arlington, VA 22205
Arlington’s Bon Air Park is home to two demonstration gardens maintained by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, in support of the Arlington County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Visit the Sunny Demonstration Garden on Saturday, June25, to learn what’s happening in the early summer garden, how to attract birds and butterflies, and how to maintain your garden during the hot days of summer.Then, visit the Shade Demonstration Garden on Sunday, June 26, to learn about summer color and texture for shady places in your yard,attractive ground covers for replacing invasive English ivy and planting for pollinators. Contact: Mary Free,

June 25th, 2011 - 10am-3pm  
Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve & Piedmont Environmental Council, 21085 The Woods Road, Leesburg, VA 20175
"Bee Local" discussions about honeybees, agriculture, and colony collapse disorder. Games, hayrides, and butterfly garden activities for kids.
Contact: Kim Winter,,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Life Made Easier with Trees and Shrubs – June 25th

Program: Life Made Easier with Trees and Shrubs

When: June 25th, 10am – noon

Where: Green Springs Garden Park

Trees and shrubs provide great structure and color in your garden and they need only occasional pruning. Brenda Skarphol, Green Spring curator, introduces you to the trees and shrubs suitable for wet, dry, sunny and shady habitats and entices you with their beauty in the garden.

Cost: $15.

Register by calling Green Spring Gardens at 703-642-5173 or click on this link to register.

Learn about Rain Barrels & Register to Win One

I've had quite a few posts lately about why and how to get rain barrels in the Metro DC area. The whys, of course, are to capture and store rainwater to help conserve water in times of drought. And to help prevent stormwater runoff.  Many of the hows were explained in this post, the Rain Barrel Response.

Here's another upcoming workshop, and this one gives you the opportunity to win a free rain barrel.

Where: Gaithersburg Youth Center in Olde Towne, 301 Teachers Way, Gaithersburg, MD 20877

Date: June 28, 2011

Time: 7:00pm–8:30pm

The workshop is being promoted by the Muddy Branch Alliance , an all volunteer  group interested in preserving the health of the local waterway known as the Muddy Branch.

Jennifer Willoughby of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin  will present the  workshop.

There will be a drawing at the end of the workshop for a rain barrel!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For My Dad, on Father's Day

© 2009 ~ Betsy S. Franz – All rights reserved. Note: This article was written and previously published in 2009.
When I was growing up, my father was an avid photographer. This was long before digital cameras and photo-taking cell phones made every lifetime event a potentially permanent one.

In my youth, capturing memories required a bit more thought and preparation. Film and flashbulbs had to be purchased, photos were taken and then the eager viewers had to wait for developing and printing. Without the benefit of being able to instantly review one’s shots, some people’s family memories often consisted of blurry unrecognized scenes, glowing red eyes or worse, chopped off heads or other body parts. But not in my family. 

To my father, taking photos was more than a way of recording special events. It was an art. My father was not content with the early point and shoot cameras that were as convenient as dropping in a film cartridge and snapping away. My dad used a camera that required the manual setting of focus and aperture. Dimly lit shots required the use of a tripod. And to insure that the finished products were what he intended them to be, my father even developed and printed his own shots in a basement darkroom.

As kids, we weren’t all that excited with his hobby. It seemed like he was always lurking nearby, camera in hand, ready to interrupt our activities with cries of “Say Cheese!” and the popping of flashbulbs. Special occasions, such as blowing out candles on cakes and opening Christmas presents were slowed down to allow proper framing and lighting. Even events as private as a first kiss or motherly hug often appeared in photographs that we never even knew were being taken.

As I grew into a teen, I began to look at his photos in a new way. I was enthralled with the way that he seemed to be able to capture just the right mood with the careful use of lighting and shadows. The facial expressions seemed to tell entire stories. However, it was his nature and wildlife photos that really changed my life. Looking into his photos allowed me to see things that I hadn’t bothered to notice on my own. Water could be either powerful or serene. Light could be both ominous and inspiring. Something as mundane as a leaf-covered path held unlimited colors, intricate details and miniature worlds of wonder. His photos taught me to not look at things superficially, but to dig deep into the sights around me. In effect, his photos taught me to see.

I was only 20 when my father passed away. A few months before he died, he gave me one of his favorite cameras and a book on how to take photos. That camera, and the many that have succeeded it, have been my constant companions over the years.

I inherited a love of words and writing from my mother. But, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The photography hobby that my father inspired in me has helped me to create images that tell their own wonderful stories and allow me to share images of beauty that others may have overlooked.

I love to thumb through our old family photo albums and relive the times of my life. My mother used to call these albums her walk down memory lane and they were a constant source of pride to her. With every flip of the page, my thoughts to my father are “thanks for the memories.”

But even more important to me than this careful chronicle of my past is the gift that my father gave me for noticing the present.

And so, today, I am going to take my camera outside and spend the day with thoughts of my dad. I’ll take my camera off of full-auto mode and remember the things he taught me about aperatures and shutter speeds. I’ll slow down and look at things closely, wandering around until I see just the right angle with just the right light. I'll try to see the world the way my father taught me to see it. I'll look for the beautiful side of things. And I'll be thankful that I was taught how to see it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Making New Plants - Workshop - June 21, 22 or 23rd



Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm
repeated on Wednesday June 22, 2011, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm
(Thursday June 23, 2011 by demand)
Research Greenhouse Conference Room, University of Maryland
Delicious vegetarian lunch provided

You have three opportunities to attend this one-day gardening intensive workshop led by Executive Director and Botanist, Dr. Christopher Puttock. Dr. Puttock has extensive experience designing, installing, and maintaining native gardens both in Maryland and abroad. He will be assisted by Ann Wing, head of  seed propagation section, and native landscaper Rochelle Bartolomei of Small Planet Projects.

Using his usual breakout workshop format, Dr. Puttock and his team will help you to maximize the potential of native plants by propagation from cuttings, division, and seed.

TARGET AUDIENCE: Anyone who designs or maintains public or private native gardens, and wants to reduce long-term costs.

BRING: To gain the most from the breakout sessions, participants should think about what native plants they would like to propagate. At the end of the day you should leave feeling confident enough to do the job. Chesapeake Natives will supply tools, some of our seeds, perennials to be divided, and plants to be cut. Be prepared to get your hands dirty. As a bonus, you will get to bring home the fruits of your labor.

Session 1: Making new plants from cuttings. We will begin with a brief introduction to the dos and don'ts of hard and soft stem propagation and what you will need to do this at home or in your greenhouse. Then you will be guided in the process with native plant materials.

Session 2: Making new plants by division. After a brief discussion regarding plant materials in your own yard that you would like to divide, you will get to practice on our collection of native plants. A range of plant materials for division will be provided, guaranteeing the participants experience with handling everything from
the very delicate plants to the very tough plants.

Session 3: Making new plants from seed. You will learn the process of germination, and why it is NOT as easy as just adding water.

PARTICIPANTS: Maximum 30 participants each day.

COST: $50 (covers food, parking, potting, and printed materials).

REGISTRATION : To register email  Tracey Gelner at

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Native Plant Database Online !!

It's finally here! What we've all been waiting for. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, in partnership with and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Image Matters LLC, have unveiled their  online guide to native plants, the Native Plant Center for the Chesapeake Bay Region.

This online guide helps you identify and select native plants and provides you information about their site and care requirements.   Replacing portions of lawn areas and typical landscapes with native plants that suit local conditions reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides which wash into our streams, rivers and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. Once in our waterways, these pollutants fuel the growth of excess algae, which clouds the water and threatens the health of fish, crabs and the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Users to the portal,, can search for native plants by name, plant type, sun exposure, soil texture and moisture, and even find native plants with the same shape, color, size or other characteristics as some of their favorite non-native plants. The portal also includes a geo-locator feature to identify plants suited to a user’s specific location.  An online network for interacting with other Chesapeake Bay stewards is planned.

Use the Native Plant Center to research some of the picks from our Favorite Native Plant Series . Or check out the plants on our drought tolerant plants lists trees, shrubs  , perennials and our plants for hummingbirds.

Check it out! Bookmark it! And plant more natives!

Everything you need to know about eco-friendly lawn mowing

I actually enjoy mowing my lawn. We have a riding mower and a rather large piece of property so it's a very relaxing activity for me.

When we began trying to be more eco-friendly in our yard, I  had to make myself cut back on the number of times I mowed and raise the height of the blade. I just hadn't realized that things like that, as well as the sharpness of the mower blade, could make such a big difference in the health of the lawn…and the health of the planet. These actions even help you save water, because sharp mower blades result in less water loss from the grass. Taller grass also encourages a deeper, more extensive root system with increased drought tolerance, and  is also  more effective at shading out weeds in the landscape. And of course, healthier lawns require less chemicals to keep them looking good and green.

Depending on where you live in the Metro DC area and what grass you grow, you will probably mow your lawn 20-40 times a year. Here are some tips to make sure that you don’t do more harm than good when you are performing lawn maintenance:

1)    Get to know your grassAs with everything in your landscape, it’s best to get to know as much as you can about the species that you are dealing with so that you can make the right choices in taking care of it.  Whether you already have an established lawn or are putting in a new one, get to know your grass. Turfgrasses that provide winter lawn color in the area are known as cool-season grasses. Grasses which go dormant after the first hard frost, and stay brown through the winter months are known as warm-season grasses. Your choice of grass species will affect how you mow.  Selecting turfgrass , Turfgrass Species   <— Excellent information  with photos of grass species

Set mowing heights according to grass species  - Once you know what species you have, you can set your mower blade at the recommended height for your species.(See Turfgrass Species link above and check on Planting and Maintenance Tips). While there are some differences in tolerable cutting heights between the various species of warm and cool-season turfgrasses, a general rule of thumb is to clip them in the 2-3 inch range. Mowing tall promotes a deeper root system and improves turf competitions against crabgrass and other warm-season weeds. If your lawn has a white hue rather than a green color after you mow, it is a good bet that you are cutting too low.

3)    Keep blades sharp and balanced – The quickest way to improve lawn quality AND turf health is to keep your mower blade sharpened. A sharp blade will also improve mower fuel efficiency and extend mower engine life.  Blades should be sharpened at least three times per growing season: start the year off with a sharp blade, sharpen it again in late spring, and then once more in mid-late summer.

4)    Adjust mowing height for different seasons– For cool-season grasses, another tip that promotes summer health and performance is to raise the cutting height during the summer.  A higher mowing height in summer helps to cool the crowns of the turfgrass plants and provides more leaf area for photosynthesis during the stressful summer months. Taller cutting heights at these times help maintain the plant’s root system. On the other hand, warm-season grasses respond to mowing on the lower side of their recommended range in the summer by increasing in density.  Whereas fescues and bluegrasses thrive at mowing heights of 2-3 inches during the fall and early spring, for summer the best strategy is to mow at a 3-4 inch height (or even taller).  Raise the cutting deck to its highest setting when it needs clipping and don’t feel compelled to get the mower out at all if the grass is not growing.

5)    Mowing new lawns New lawns need time for their roots to become established before they can be mowed for the first time. For seeded lawns, it may take up to 2 months before they are ready to be mowed. Sod may be ready to be mowed within 2 to 3 weeks of planting. Three to six weeks are required for sprigs, stolons, and plugs to become established. For seeded lawns, wait for all of the seeds to germinate before mowing. For sod, sprigs, stolons, and plugs, make sure the roots are firmly planted in the soil before mowing to avoid tearing out new turf.  Follow these tips for new lawns: Be sure that the lawn is fairly dry before mowing so that you do not pull out any of your new lawn. As a general rule, you should let your lawn grow to about one-and-a-half times the recommended height before cutting so that you are cutting off no more than one-third of the height of your lawn at a time. For the first mow, you can let the lawn grow to the high end of the recommended range or even a little higher before cutting to give it a little more time to become established, but be sure to still only cut off one-third of the blade.

6)    Adjust mowing height for shady spots – For shady areas,  mow on the high side of the recommended range in order to maximize the plant’s leaf area.  Your lawn grasses will already be at a huge competitive disadvantage to the trees in regards to light, water, and nutrients, so it needs some special attention to maintain a canopy.

7)    Employ the “1/3rd rule” of mowing Lawn experts recommend that you shouldn’t remove more than 1/3rd of the leaf blade when you mow.  Removing too much of the foliage while mowing shocks the plant, forcing it to redirect its food resources from roots and stems towards new leaves. That means that if you want to mow to a 3” height, you shouldn’t mow until your grass is 4.5” high. To mow to a 2” height, you would wait until the grass is 3” high.

8)    Mowing very tall grass–If the lawn has gotten away from you, resist the temptation to scalp it in a single mowing event.  Instead, slowly drop the mowing height every 2-3 days while returning the turf to its ideal height.  This will maintain plant health and prevent you from having unsightly piles of clippings that not only look bad, but can also smother the turfgrass and create an environment that favors disease development. Grass clippings should be bagged or raked and removed when mowing grass that has grown too tall.

9)    Change your mowing pattern – Alternate your mowing pattern or direction each time the lawn is mowed.   Repeatedly mowing the lawn in the same direction pushes the grass over rather than cutting it cleanly. Also, different mowing patterns reduce soil compaction and wear from the mower wheels.

10) Grasscycle – Finally, return clippings as often as possible to your turf. Clippings are nothing more than organic fertilizer for your lawn, and if you follow the 1/3rd rule, you will never produce enough clippings to cause problems with your lawn.  You can reduce your turf’s fertility needs and help the environment by keeping your clippings in your lawn. NEVER blow your clippings into the street,where they can add to local stormwater pollution.

For More Information: Mow Like a Pro

Sources:  Virginia Cooperative Extension, University of California IPM

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

8 Ways to Compost, From Treehugger

Composting is a very eco-friendly and easy process for any home gardener. When used as an additive for garden soil,compost can help plants make it through times of drought and extreme weather temperatures.

Organic matter such as yard and food waste make up about 23% of the waste that is generated in the United States. Composting is a way to re-use this organic waste to keep it out of the landfills while creating natural soil additives for your gardens. When worked into the soil, compost provides essential nutrients, improves soil texture, moderates temperatures, and increases the ability of the soil to absorb air and water. It also suppresses weed growth, decreases erosion, and reduces the need to apply commercial soil additives, thereby saving you money.

There is a great new post and slideshow on TreeHugger called 8 Ways to Compost and Which One You Should Try. I couldn't really think of 8 ways, so I thought the article was worth a read. After reading the article, I'm still not sure I would really consider these 8 different ways, but here is what they have listed. Pop on over to the full post for more details.

1) Hot Composting - By creating conditions where microorganisms thrive, hot composting generates significant amounts of heat. Takes some work but the compost breaks down relatively quickly.

2) Cold Composting - Easier but slower. More likely to have weeds and diseases.

3) Vermicomposting or Worm Composting- Let worms do the work.

4) Leaf mold - Piling up your leaves and letting them rot. Similar to #2, but only made of leaves.

5) Grub Composting - A small container that uses the larva of the black soldier fly to create compost in a matter of days.

6) Compost Tumblers - Compost tumblers offer a convenient, labor-saving alternative to turning a hot compost heap—and they help to break down compost a lot faster than a cool heap too.

7) Humanure Compost - Making compost out of human waste.

8 ) Municipal Composting - Letting government agencies collect yard waste and turn it into mulch. (See our resources page for sources for free and low cost municipal mulch in the Metro DC area)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Citizen Scientists Wanted to help Monitor Stinkbugs

I've previously written about the value of Citizen Scientists. Citizen Scientists are individuals who help to monitor local wildlife trends by reporting various "critters" they see in their own yards. There are various Citizen Science programs for birds, butterflies, frogs and other critters. But now Jon Traunfeld, of the University of Maryland Extension, is asking for local citizens to help monitor Stink Bugs.

According to this post on Susan Reimer's Garden Variety Blog, Jon Traunfeld and the University of Maryland Extension are asking the rest of us to help keep track of stink bugs by noting which fruits or vegetables they are not just sitting on, but feeding on.

The extension service will compile the information to help develop a comprehensive list of the plants that stink bugs love the best. Right now, that list includes tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, asparagus, raspberry, peach, pear and apple.

Let the extension know if the stink bugs are worse in your garden this year than last. Send him an email at

Also, check out the new floating row cover web page and photo gallery for some ideas on how to exclude pests, like the stink bug, from your garden plants.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Grow a Pizza Garden - June 15th

What child doesn't love pizza? And what better way to get kids interested in gardening then teaching them how to grow their own pizza garden? This free talk will teach children and their adults the basics!

When: Wednesday, June 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Arlington Central Library Community Garden (near east side doors) 1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington, Va.

What: Garden Talk–How to Grow a Pizza
Children and their adults will learn how one of their favorite foods is closely connected to the garden. They can also help plant pizza ingredients in containers that will then be given away. It's a great way to encourage young people to think about where their food comes from and increase their interest in gardening. Presented by Anne Santarone and Gary Fremerman.

Call 703-228-6321 for more information.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Beneficial, drought tolerant native plants for the Metro DC area - trees and shrubs

The following is a list of native plants which are designated as drought tolerant by local sources. Additional benefits such as value for birds, butterflies, and humans are listed. Please see index to abbreviations at end of list.
Beneficial Native, Drought Tolerant 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
Acer negundo Box elder Tree Su X X X X - -
Acer rubrum Red maple Tree Su-PS X X - - - -
Amelanchier canadensis Shadblow serviceberry Tree/Shrub Su-PS X X - X X -
Amelanchier laevis Smooth serviceberry Shrub Su-PS X X - X X X
Betula lenta Cherry birch, Sweet birch Tree Sh, PS X X X X - -
*Betula nigra River birch Tree Su-PS X X - - - -
*Callicarpa Americana Beautyberry Shrub Sh X X - - X -
Carya alba Mockernut hickory Tree PS-FS X X X - - -
Carya glabra Pignut hickory Tree PS-FS X - - - - -
Carya ovata Shagbark hickory Tree Su-PS X - - X - -
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey tea, Redroot Shrub Su-PS X X X X X -
*Cercis canadensis Redbud Tree Su-PS X X - X X X
Cornus Florida Flowering Dogwood Tree Su-PS X X X X X X
Diospyros virginiana Persimmon Tree Su-Sh X X X X - -
Fraxinus americana White ash Tree Su-PS X X X X - -
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Green ash, Red ash Tree Su-PS X X X - - -
Hamamelis virginiana Witch hazel Tree Su-PS X - - X X X
Ilex glabra Inkberry Shrub PS X X - - - -
Ilex vomitoria Yaupon holly Shrub Su-Sh X X X X - -
Juniperus virginiana Eastern red cedar Tree SU-PS X X - - - X
Liriodendron tulipifera Tuliptree, Tulip poplar Tree SU-PS X H X X X -
*Nyssa sylvatica Black tupelo, Sourgum Tree Su-PS X X - - - -
*Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood, Sorrel tree Tree Su-PS X - - - X -
Pinus echinata Shortleaf pine Tree Su-PS X - - - - -
Pinus strobus Eastern white pine Tree Su-PS X X - - - -
Pinus taeda Loblolly pine Tree Su-PS X X X - - -
Pinus virginiana Virginia pine Tree Su X X X - - -
Prunus serotina Wild Black cherry, Rum cherry Tree Su-PS X X - X X -
*Quercus alba White oak Tree Su-PS X X X - - -
*Quercus coccinea Scarlet oak, Red oak Tree Su-PS X - - - - -
Quercus falcata Southern red oak, Spanish oak Tree Su X - - - - -
Quercus palustris Pin oak Tree Su-PS X X X - - -
Quercus rubra Northern red oak Tree Su-PS X X - - - -
Quercus stellata Post oak Tree PS X X X - - -
Rhododendron prinophyllum Early azalea, Rose azalea Shrub Su-FS X - - - X -
Rhus aromatica Fragrant sumac Shrub Su-PS X X X - X X
Rhus copallinum Winged sumac Shrub Su X X - - - -
Rhus glabra Smooth sumac Shrub Su-PS X X X X X -
Robinia pseudoacacia Black locust, Honey locust Tree Su X H X - X X
Rosa Carolina Pasture rose Shrub Su-Sh X X - - X X
Rubus allegheniensis Alleghany blackberry Shrub Su-Sh X X - - X -
Sambucus canadensis Common elderberry Shrub Su-PS X X - X X -
Sassafras albidum Sassafras Tree Su-PS X X X X - X
Taxodium distichum Bald cypress Tree Su X - - - - -
Tsuga canadensis Eastern hemlock Tree Su-PS X X X - - X
Vaccinium angustifolium Northern lowbush blueberry Shrub Su-Sh X X - X - -
Vaccinium stamineum Deerberry Shrub Su-PS X X - X - -
Vaccinium corymbosum Highbush blueberry Shrub Su-Sh X X - X X -
Viburnum dentatum Southern arrowwood Shrub Su-PS X X - - X -
Viburnum rufidulum Rusty blackhaw Tree Su-PS 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 sunlight at least six hours a day.
PS Partial Sh: direct sunlight between three to six hours.
Sh Sh: less than three hours of direct sunlight 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

Website by Water Words That Work LLC