Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Favorite Native Plants, Keith Tomlinson, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Keith Tomlinson, Botanical Garden Manager of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia was kind enough to share his thoughts about some of his favorite native plants for my current series about Native plant favorites.

“Eastern Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) is a distinctive shrub with very early yellow tubular spring flowers and soft "leathery" wood. It is rare in the backyard or botanical garden, but a real gem.

Hop Tree or Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata) is a native member of the Orange family, a host plant for swallowtails, and rare in trade and gardens.

Frasier's Sedge (Cymophllus fraserianus) is a true Appalachian endemic with beautiful shiny rosettes of long green leaves and small white flowers in the spring. One of the worlds most unusual sedges.”

Keith has managed Meadowlark Botanical Gardens since 1998 but has worked as a naturalist all around the world for the past twenty-five years. And although he may be a little biased,  he says that Meadowlark’s native plant collections are “the best in the DC region”.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a great place to see many native plants in a beautiful setting, since they have  three native plant collections as part of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation:

  • Potomac Valley Collection - plants native to the Potomac River basin.
  • Virginia Native Tree Collection - native trees for use in a home setting.
  • Virginia Native Wetland - A small wetland with local trees.

I also noticed on their website that they have a Gardening with Butterflies workshop coming up on September 15 at 10:00 a.m. so mark your calendars!

Previous posts:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Grass painting

Have you seen the articles in the news lately about people who are having their dried out, unsightly lawns painted to “green them up”? Apparently, there are companies that will come out and spray paint your grass for you. From what I have read, there isn’t anything environmentally unhealthy about the process.

According to one site I visited, the process is:

  • Non-toxic
  • Harmless to lawns, pets, and children
  • Dries in less than one hour
  • Will not wash off
  • Dramatically improves appearance in just minutes
  • Lasts for up to 12 weeks or until mowed
  • Reduces watering / maintenance costs

I think some of those claims are a little bit questionable. Like the fact that it says it will last up to 12 weeks OR UNTIL you mow. I don’t think many people who are concerned enough about how their lawn looks that they would have it painted would be willing to go for 12 weeks without mowing. And as far as reducing water and maintenance needs….does that just mean that you can go without watering and your grass will still look green……because it is painted?

Although this isn’t something I would generally consider doing for my home lawn, there are a few instances where I can see using this process.

My husband was lucky enough to participate in a homebuilding project for a national TV show at one time. They built a home quickly and then wanted to be able to showcase it on TV. One of the final steps for the production crew was spray painting the lawn so it looked green for it’s TV debut.

I also think I might consider it if I was having an outdoor wedding (or other ceremony) on the grass at my own home or at a public garden somewhere. Wouldn’t a gorgeous green lawn just look better in the photos?

Anyway, its just another one of those things that makes you say “Hmmmmmm.” Somebody had an idea and decided to make a business out of it. And with all of the press he’s getting for it lately, he’s probably bringing in as much “green” as he is spreading around.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Battery powered garden tools and other eco-friendly options

My husband and I recently bought a battery powered string trimmer at one of the local big-box home improvement stores. We absolutely LOVE it. Our gas powered string trimmer was a constant challenge and we never knew from one week to the next whether we could even get it to start at all. The new battery powered one starts with the quick press of a button.

Here are some quick facts I read about gasoline powered garden tools today that made me feel even better about the purchase. They are in an article entitled Environmentally Friendly Gardening which I found online.

Each week, 54 million Americans mow their lawns; a feat that requires an astounding 800 million gallons of gas per year and produces 5% of the county’s greenhouse gases. According to the EPA, one gas mower emits 88 lbs. of CO2, and 34 lbs. of other pollutants into the air annually. It’s not just the emissions that wreak havoc with Mother Nature, it’s estimated that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year as gardeners refuel their mowers; more than the Exxon Valdes environmental disaster. Think also of the fuel for hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws as well as the pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers which have a huge impact on the food chain, water supply and health of residents.

The article also mentions several of my other favorite eco-friendly tips, including: Avoid using any kind of poisonous chemicals in your garden and get rid of your lawn.

Go ahead and give it a read while I finish trimming up around my gardens.

Environmentally Friendly Gardening

Friday, July 27, 2012

Swallowtail butterflies – center stage

There are times that I get pretty obsessed with the wildlife in my yard. The first year that hummingbirds started hanging around, I would sit on the front porch for extended periods of time, with my camera on a tripod, waiting to get the perfect photos of the little fluttering jewels. I took thousands of photos. And although I never did grow tired of seeing the hummingbirds (and, hopefully, never will) I did quit taking so many photos of them. After all, I hardly have time to look through the photos, much less do anything else with them.

I get the same way whenever any new creature comes on the scene, and since we garden for wildlife, our photo-ops are pretty common.

My most recent garden obsession is the swallowtail caterpillars that are on some of our herb plants. Swallowtails laid eggs on our dill and fennel plants, and most of them were soon quickly devoured by some visiting wasps. I haven’t seen the wasps in awhile, and the caterpillars are again taking over those plants. But even more caterpillars are on the potted parsley plant that is right outside our front door. This has given me a great opportunity to watch much of the caterpillar/butterfly lifecycle, but still not enough to figure out what is happening to most of the caterpillars.

At any given time, there appear to be close to 100 caterpillars in various growth stages. They get huge, and although a few end up going to chrysalis, they don’t all appear to be making it to that stage – or at least I can’t figure out where they are going. Someday I am going to invest in one of those “critter cams” so I can keep an eye on my critters from a distance.

The video at the top of this post is fairly long, but it shows how a caterpillar changes to chrysalis. I always thought that the chrysalis was formed OVER the striped caterpillar skin, but this video clearly shows that the caterpillar sheds its skin as it turns into a chrysalis.

Gardening for wildlife is a great way to learn more about the “critters” that we can protect by practicing eco-friendly landscaping.

If you don’t have butterflies in your own garden, be sure and stop by a butterfly garden at one of the local botanical gardens such as Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit or the Butterfly Habitat Garden at the Smithsonian. **Note: Always check before visiting any of the local butterfly gardens, as they are sometimes closed due to weather, including extreme heat.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Favorite Native Plants, Peggy Bowers, Mount Vernon Estate

zebrast Last year I did a series of posts listing the Favorite Native Plants of some members of the local gardening community. (See bottom of this post for a listing)

Since I’m such a big fan of native plants, I decided to run a few more posts on this topic.

My first post in this years Native Plant series is from Peggy Bowers, Garden and Greenhouse Manager at Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens.

Here’s what Peggy had to say about favorite native plants:

I am delighted to be able to contribute to the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog. I have been a long time advocate on the importance of using native plants in both our home gardens and commercial landscapes. With the tremendous loss of natural habitat, incorporating native plants into our gardens is more important than ever.

During the 18th century, habitat loss was much less an issue than today, but native plants were still much appreciated and used simply for their beauty. General George Washington used many native plants in his gardens and landscape at his beloved Mount Vernon, collecting many from his woodlands and forest. Today at the Mount Vernon Estate we are still growing those same varieties of plants that George Washington so appreciated in his lifetime.

While all native plants fill a niche in nature, many also bring more to the party making them must-have garden plants. Here are a few of my favorite native plants that will make excellent additions to almost any garden.

When it comes to vines I love the well-behaved Coral honeysuckle,  Lonicera sempervirens. Blooming most of the summer, the nectar found in the red trumpet shaped flowers is a favorite of the ruby-throated hummingbird, while the red berries provide a good food source for many of our native songbirds.

Another must-have in my garden is the beautiful Echinacea purpurea or purple cone flower. Coneflowers are great food source for all kinds of pollinators including butterflies, bees and wasps while the seeds are a favorite of our brightly colored American Goldfinch. Echinacea now come in a huge array of colors and heights making them great additions to any garden.

While there are many great shrubs to choose from Itea virginica or Virginia sweetspire is at the top of my list. Well suited to either moist or average soil they are happy in both full sun and partial shade. They provide year round interest starting with beautiful fragrant white bottle brush shaped flowers in June, gorgeous red to orange fall color and dark red stems in the winter. The flowers are great for butterflies and other pollinators and the seeds are eaten by vireos, warblers and orioles. Two outstanding selections that are readily available are ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and’ Little Henry’’. “Henry’s Garnet” grows 4 to 5 feet and will have consistently brilliant red fall color while Little Henry, at under 3 feet, is very suitable to smaller spaces and looks terrific massed on a hillside.

As for trees, one of my favorite native trees which should be used more often is Asimina triloba or paw-paw. Growing naturally along river banks and in moist forests, it also adapts well to average garden soil and moisture. Growing 15 to 30 feet it has a beautiful dark maroon flowers in early spring, tropical looking 6 to 12 inch leaves, delicious aromatic fruit and beautiful yellow fall color. If all of this was not enough reason to grow it, the paw-paw tree is also the sole food source of the larvae of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly.

I hope this helps to inspire you to incorporate even more native plants into your garden to share with our native butterflies, bees and birds.

Thanks so much for your input, Peggy. I wonder if George Washington enjoyed the hummingbirds and butterflies as much as you and I do?

Link for more information on Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens.

Resources for native plant information: Native Plant Center and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflowercenter

Previous posts:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Goldfish in a rain barrel?

Hmmm. Just found a post online (and several more about the topic once I started searching) that said that you can put goldfish in your rain barrels to keep the mosquitoes under control. This doesn’t sound like a good idea AT ALL, to me, but I would be interested in hearing some other opinions.

Sure, we all know the benefits of rain barrels. They help to capture rainwater for future use and also help cut down on stormwater runoff.

Since they do hold standing water, some people are concerned that they may be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Since all of our rain barrels are the kind that are closed at the top, and fit directly to the downspouts on our home, we are not aware of them ever being a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

However, some people use a different type of rain barrel to capture their rain. These barrels are completely open at the top, and the opening is covered with screen to keep debris and small critters from getting in the barrel. I ASSUMED that these were the  type of barrels that some people add goldfish to, to help control any mosquitoes that lay eggs in the water. However, I found at least one post online where it looked like people were adding goldfish to a CLOSED barrel.

I don’t really know much about fish, but I am a critter lover. So my questions are: would goldfish in a closed rain barrel get enough oxygen? What about light? What happens when your rain barrel runs low on water? Or when its raining so hard that the water is just gushing into the barrel?

I know that these small fish are just sold as “feeder fish” for larger critters, anyway, so maybe people see them as expendable. But if they die, how do you keep the fish from clogging up your spigots?

Any fish experts out there care to add an opinion?

Here is the original post I read: Did you know? Goldfish and Rain Barrels

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Avoiding the invasives

I read a great article about the native/invasive plant debate online recently entitled Foreign Invasion: Is Your Garden A Danger?  It’s a common topic among green gardeners who are often tempted to add a plant to their garden because of its aesthetic qualities without really giving much thought to what its going to do to their landscape…. or the surrounding landscapes….in the future.

Although there are many plant species out there that can tempt us to invite them home for a visit, some of them can become very pushy and invasive, and getting rid of them can be as difficult as eradicating a visiting houseguest who is already starting to rearrange the furniture in your guest room.

While you may not be too concerned because the problem seems contained to your backyard, Emily DeBolt, who is quoted in the article, says that  80 percent of the plants used in gardens have exceeded their boundaries and taken over roadsides, wetlands and fields.

“With more development, more habitat loss, our gardens are part of the bigger environment, the bigger ecosystems. What we put in our gardens does matter; it’s not just our own space,” DeBolt said.

The article reminds us that invasive plants can be spread in many ways. Birds and other forms of wildlife can eat berries and spread them through the neighborhood through their droppings. And, of course, seeds can be carried by wind, water and humans or animal fur.

And once they take hold, the effects of the non-native plants can adversely affect the environment, economy and human health.

The better alternative, of course, is to choose native plants which are suited for your own site conditions. Native plants generally require less harmful chemicals and supplemental water, which helps to save you money and help protect the environment.

Natives help protect waterways, too, because the deep roots absorb stormwater run-off better than turf grasses and the shallow root systems of ornamental plants.

The article suggests that a few extra precautions should be  taken if you do decide to remove some of your invasive plant species.

…if you’ve decided you do want a more eco-friendly garden and wish to rid your garden of the offending plants, pull them out and place them in a black garbage bag. Let it sit in the hot sun until the plant material turns to mush, and dispose of it in the trash. Don’t put the plants out for waste pick up or in a compost pile, and check with your local department of public works for more disposal information.

To Read the full article: Foreign invasion: Is your garden a danger?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Take control of your irrigation system controller to help conserve water

If your home has an irrigation system, it is tempting to just set the controller for a regular schedule and assume that it is handling all of your lawn and garden watering for you.

But the recent edition of the EPA Watersense newsletter has some great tips to ensure that homeowners don’t allow their irrigation systems to waste water.

Here are some TIPS to make sure that you keep the upper hand when it comes to controlling your watering:

1) Get to know your controllers: Kathy Nguyen, a 2011 WaterSense Promotional Partner of the Year, recommends that homeowners spend  time getting to know their irrigation systems this summer. For example, those with an automatic irrigation system should know how to turn it on and off.

“What has consistently saved the most water is when customers turn their automatic irrigation controllers on and off manually. Then, they are more apt to be involved in evaluating whether their landscape needs watering,” she says.

2) Spy on Your Sprinklers : Home and business owners should watch their sprinkler system run through each watering zone at least once to see how much concrete is inadvertently being watered. Systems that run overnight or at other times when users are not present can apply water to pavement that then evaporates before the user returns to the site.

3) Give Your Grass the Step Test:  Even if you don’t have an irrigation system for your yard, you can take steps to save water and improve your lawn’s health and beauty. Grass doesn’t always need water just because it’s hot out, Nguyen notes. Step on the lawn, and if the grass springs back, it doesn’t need water. She recommends performing this “step test” in the early morning or late evening to get the most realistic view.

Learn additional ways to save on your summer water bill, while enjoying a landscape that’s both beautiful and convenient.

Current Summer 2012 | WaterSense | US EPA

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Native Plants for Wildlife

swallowtails I always suggest that people add at least some native plant species to their landscapes. I think native plants are good for several reasons. They are generally better adapted to the conditions of the local environment so they shouldn’t need as much care, water and fertilizer as other plants might.

One of the other reasons that I recommend native plants is that they are usually the best choices for providing food for local wildlife.

But then I started thinking about butterflies. You may already know that butterflies all have specific plants that they use for their host plants. Host plants are the plants on which butterflies lay their eggs and caterpillars dine while they are getting big enough to go to chrysalis, before hatching into butterflies.

Some of my favorite butterflies – those of the swallowtail family – dine on dill, parsley and fennel. In fact, I often end up spending ridiculous amounts of money on these plants to make sure that my gluttonous caterpillars don’t run out of food.

And to the best of my knowledge, those plants aren’t native. So I wondered if there were native plants that those butterflies dined on before early European settlers starting bringing over their favorite herbs and spices.

I have a couple of favorite sites for checking butterfly info so I check there first. The Butterflies and Moths of North America website lists the plants I knew about as well as Queen Anne’s Lace as a host plant. I checked, and Queen Anne’s Lace is not a native, and is also considered invasive in some areas.

None of my other usual sites listed any other plants except saying “plants of the carrot family”. I FINALLY found one source that listed these native species for Black Swallowtails.

native species

  • mock bishopweed, Ptilimnium capillaceum (Michx.) Raf.

  • roughfruit scaleseed, Spermolepis divaricata (Walter) Raf.

  • spotted water hemlock, Cicuta maculata L.

  • water cowbane, Oxypolis filiformis (Walter) Britton

  • wedgeleaf eryngo, Eryngium cuneifolium (Small)

Personally, I will probably keep buying a little parsley, dill and fennel for these beautiful creatures. We really don’t mind sharing. But if anyone knows of any NATIVE plant species that swallowtail caterpillars dine on, I’d love it if you let me know what works.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2nd Place Winner in the Green Gardeners Make a Difference Photo Contest


The second place winner of the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog’s Green Gardeners Make a Difference Photo contest is Gemma Evans of College Park, Maryland.

Gemma’s photo made it into the voting round because it illustrated several eco-friendly principles. Gemma won second place in the contest because her photo received 186 total votes - the second highest number of all entries in the contest.

Here is the information Gemma submitted on her entry form, illustrating how she helps to make a positive difference to the local environment by creating an eco-friendly landscape.

Which eco-friendly practices are represented in this picture?: Eco-friendly plant choices, Water conservation techniques, Elimination of chemicals, Creation of wildlife habitat , Reduction or replacement of lawn areas

How does this photograph illustrate eco-friendly lawn and garden practices?: This photo of my shade garden shows many eco-friendly practices! You can see a wide range of native & shade-loving plants; use of mulch to reduce weeds & the amount of watering needed; plants that attract wildlife (birds, rabbits and insects); and replacement of lawn area (an on-going project).

Plants include ferns, bleeding heart, wood poppy, coral bells, redbud saplings, dwarf crested iris, rudbeckia, turtlehead (white and pink), lambs ear and hostas.

You also can see the base of a beautiful & massive Willow Oak, which provides a great deal of habitat for wildlife of all sorts, as well as plenty of leaves for my compost pile.

What you can’t see in the picture, that I am happy about, is any English ivy – an ongoing project is hand-pulling the darn stuff. You also can’t see the compost that has been included in the bed. I compost at home, and also purchase locally-made compost (and mulch) from the City of College Park.

I feel good using it, knowing that it didn’t travel more than a mile to get to my garden!

Thanks so much to Gemma, Nancy and to all of our other entrants!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1st Place Winner – Green Gardeners Make a Difference Photo Contest


The Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog sponsors would like to congratulate Nancy Striniste of Arlington, Virginia – our first place winner in the Green Gardeners Make a Difference Photo Contest.

Participants were asked to submit photos reflecting eco-friendly landscaping practices. Qualifying photos were then moved into the voting round, where site visitors could vote for their favorite photo.

Nancy Striniste was the first place winner, receiving a total of 261 votes for her photo entitled Living Roof and Front Yard Habitat Garden.

Here is the information Nancy submitted on her entry form, illustrating how Nancy helps to make a positive difference to the local environment by creating an eco-friendly landscape.

Which eco-friendly practices are represented in this picture?: Eco-friendly plant choices, Water conservation techniques, Reduction of stormwater runoff , Elimination of chemicals, Creation of wildlife habitat , Reduction or replacement of lawn areas

How does this photograph illustrate eco-friendly lawn and garden practices?: When we added our front porch in 2006, we couldn’t resist trying a living roof which would capture and clean stormwater, keep the porch below cool and comfy, and be soft and beautiful. This month there are iceplants, sedum and talinum in beautiful bloom on the roof. We’ve replaced our front lawn with a certified wildlife habitat—including North American natives such as Inkberry, Winterberry, Clethra, Itea, Oakleaf Hydrangea and a big patch of Echinacea which you can see in front of the fence— teaming with butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects—and later with flocks of goldfinches. Just to the left of the porch is a rain chain, and behind that is a rainbarrel and a new two-bin composter where we’re making rich mulch for the gardens. To the right of the driveway is a raingarden planted with natives, which captures about 50% of our roof water. The most recent addition, right in the center, sitting on the wall, is a tongue drum with a sign that says “PLAY ME”. It has become a favorite stop for neighborhood kids and it’s really fun to hear their music.

Congratulations Nancy, and thanks for doing such a great job creating an eco-friendly landscape. We know that your actions benefit us all.

We’ll have a post about our second place winner, Gemma Evans, tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Eco-Friendly Paving Solutions

This is a topic that I haven’t written about for awhile but its another way that you can make a really positive change in your home landscape – choosing eco-friendly paving solutions.

One of the goals of a good, eco-friendly landscape is to allow water to percolate down and stay ON the property, rather than running off into storm drains. When water runs into storm drains, it can not only take chemicals and pollutants with it, but it can also cause flooding during times of heavy rains.

Here’s a great article that I found online recently entitled Eco-Friendly Paving Solutions.

The article says, “A host of paving products let water percolate through to the ground underneath, limiting water runoff, preventing erosion, filtering out pollutants, and improving the health of soil and vegetation. If you are planning a driveway, patio, sidewalk, or garden path project, consider permeable pavers or concrete to allow for natural drainage while providing a solid surface strong enough to handle vehicles and people.”

The article goes on to list several products, with great photos and more details, for porous pavement, open concrete grids, and permeable pavers.

It’s a great article if you are planning any major landscape design changes in the near future.

Read the full article here: Eco-Friendly Paving Solutions.

Previous post on similar subject: The benefits of permeable surfaces are finally starting to soak in!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trees – will you be replanting?

Residents of Metro DC and surrounding areas may not be thinking very kind thoughts about trees right now. When Mother Nature blew through town a few weeks ago, she huffed and puffed and blew down many of the areas trees, leaving millions of people without electricity and facing weeks worth of cleanup and landscape maintenance.

Many people will soon face the decision of whether they want to replant trees in their yards at all. Personally, I love my trees. I mourn the big ones when they fall and I celebrate the new ones that sprout up in their place. I spend as much time as I can surrounded by trees.

I’ve done many posts about the benefits of trees. Some of those benefits are:

  1. Trees decrease heating bills up to 15 percent and cooling bills up to 50 percent. (DDOE)
  2. Trees Reduce Noise Pollution - Trees act as buffers against roadways and other noise producing sources by absorbing unpleasant sounds from the urban environment. PT
  3. Tree roots protect groundwater - Tree roots help stabilize soil which, if loose and prone to erosion, might be carried away by stormwater runoff. MC
  4. Trees provide Healthy Air - The trees of Washington filter 540 tons of harmful, health-threatening pollutants from the air each year. CT One acre of trees absorbs enough carbon dioxide every year to offset 26,000 miles of automobile exhaust! dc.gov
  5. Trees provide habitat for wildlife

You can read some of my previous blog posts to see some of my favorite reasons to plant trees. But what are yours? This month’s poll asks the question “What would be your favorite motivator to plant a tree in your yard?” You can answer it here or on our facebook page.

Previous posts about trees:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just a few days left to vote in the Green Gardeners Make a Difference Contest!

There are just a few days left to vote in the Green Gardeners Make a Difference Photo contest and right now, it’s a close race to the finish!

We love to encourage gardeners who make a positive difference to the environment and our 18 entrants have all shared great photos showing how they do that by using native plants, compost, mulch, rain barrels and other green, eco-friendly elements.

You can vote ONCE per day through Friday, July 13th.

If you are one of those with an entry in the contest, don’t forget to ask your friends and family to vote for you each day, too. It’s easy to share your photo on Facebook and ask friends and family to keep on sharing it with their friends, too. There’s even a great Invite Friends button on the front page of the contest.


At this point, every vote counts!

Good luck!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Animal-free fertilizers for the garden

 shovelingpoo1 As an eco-friendly gardener, I have often mentioned substances to add to garden soil that I believe are less toxic to the environment. Many of them are animal by-products, such as animal waste and fish byproducts.

But there’s a blog post on Mother Nature Network which suggests ANIMAL-free choices, stating that,

“these days, a lot of people are choosing to grow their gardens without the addition of animal products, and for many reasons: They may be vegan or have an ethical objection, they may have religious limitations or they may have allergies, just to name a few.”

Here’s a synopsis of what they have listed as animal-free fertilizers. Head on over to the full article for more details.

    1. Compost - It’s incredibly rich in myriad minerals, and it also provides important beneficial bacteria and other essential micro fauna. These organisms help to colonize the soil, keeping it “clean” and within a desirable pH range.
    2. Liquid herbal infusions - Many of the most common plants, even some that are considered pests, can be full of important minerals such as nitrogen, iron, calcium, magnesium and sulfur.
    3. Seaweed - Sea vegetables are an excellent source of trace minerals, like sodium, copper, zinc and more.
    4. Mulch with straw - The benefit of mulching with straw is that the organic matter slowly breaks down and “feeds” the soil.
    5. Nitrogen-fixing crops - Also called “green manure,” this is another technique that uses actual plants to create an organic fertilizer.

For all the details, visit: Animal-free fertilizers for your healthy home garden

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Clean up and green up the National Mall – July 12th

What: Clean up and green up
When: July 12th, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Where: National Mall

US Airways in partnership with Keep America Beautiful and Keep Washington DC Beautiful will host a clean up event on the National Mall between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument on Thursday, July 12th.

Volunteers will be weeding around benches, mulching and picking up litter following the 4th of July weekend. The event will take place from 9:00am to 12:00pm and breakfast, snacks, water and t-shirts will be provided. There will be a tent set up adjacent to the Smithsonian Metro Station where volunteers should assemble and receive their assignments at 9:00am on the morning of the event.

Please contact Emily Bond at ebond@kab.org or 203-659-3004 for more information or if you would like to sign up to volunteer at this impactful event!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Storm Weary Gardeners Take Storm Damage in Stride

barrysyard To many gardeners, landscapes are much more than inanimate plants and trees.

Gardeners can become attached to their gardens in ways that are not always understood by the non-gardener. They have carefully selected their plants, lovingly placed them in the ground, nurtured them and watched them grow. Plants feed their bodies, feed their souls and allow a rather intimate relationship with the birds, butterflies and other wildlife that reside among them.

So when any severe weather phenomenon comes through and destroys what they have created, a gardener can feel a great sense of loss. And in some cases, severe weather may be enough to make plant hobbyists “throw in the trowel”. But for dedicated gardeners and nature lovers, acts of nature are all just taken in stride.

For some, it is the love of wildlife that motivates them. Even the sight of broken trees and damaged plants are quickly forgotten when they see butterflies and hummingbirds feeding on the plants that are still standing.

For others, gardening is a hobby that is just in their blood.

“It’s almost like our gardens were the victim of a violent crime,” my friend Kathy once said when walking through her garden after a violent storm. ”Except you can't catch Mother Nature and put her in jail. You have to be philosophic – even if you don't feel like being philosophic. Gardening and collecting plants is our passion and will always be a part of our lives.

While listening to the stories of fellow gardeners this week, one trait always seemed to shine through. In the midst of all the work and the cleanup, they were all still delighted when they uncovered hidden new growth. And they all still took time to stop and smell the flowers.

Well into another day of cleanup, Maryland resident Barry Louis Polisar summed up a true gardener’s feelings pretty well when he said: “It’s just the price we pay for living in Paradise.”

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your photo, Barry. (You can see lots more of Barry’s photos, as well as learn about his great musical endeavors, on his Facebook page).

America the Beautiful – Native plant species add to the beauty of our country

black_eyed_susanI love using native plants whenever I can because I think they have many benefits to the environment. Native plants, when selected to work with your particular site conditions, usually require less water, less chemicals and less labor while providing food and habitat for native wildlife. Because of my love of native plants, my ears perked up when I heard this particular comment while watching The Victory Garden on PBS the other morning. During a short clip on native plants, Jamie Durie, a horticulturalist and international award-winning landscape designer, said “Over 30 of America’s state flowers and trees have been pushed out of their state natural habitat through urban sprawl and climate change.” Wow. That seemed like a pretty dramatic statement so I did some searching on the internet to see if I could find anything that verified that statement and I couldn’t. I also asked for more info about the statement on the Victory Garden website but have not, as yet, received a reply. I did, however, find some information on the U.S. National Arboretum website that seems to indicate that many state flowers aren’t actually native to the states that designated them as such, but “were chosen because of their beauty or importance, not because they represent the natural flora of the state they represent.” So, I think this just might be another example of “you can’t believe everything you hear.” In any case, it’s always a great idea to use native plants when you can. Here are some of the great native plants lists we have featured on the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog: Have a safe and wonderful 4th of July, enjoying the beauty of the world around you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sun Safety Tips

sunhat   Since several people in my family have had skin cancers, you would think that I wouldn’t need to be reminded to put on sunscreen and wear my hat. But like many anxious gardeners, I am sometimes so eager to get outside and play in the dirt, that protecting my skin isn’t my first thought. Thankfully, my husband (who has had several skin cancers removed himself) does the reminding for me.

As a reminder to everyone, here are some sun safety tips from the EPA website:

  • Do Not Burn -Sunburns significantly increase one's lifetime risk of developing skin cancer, especially for children.
  • Avoid Sun Tanning and Tanning Beds - UV radiation from tanning beds and the sun causes skin cancer and wrinkling.
  • Generously Apply Sunscreen - Generously apply about one ounce of sunscreen to cover all exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and provide broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear Protective Clothing - Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, when possible.
  • Seek Shade - Seek shade when possible, and remember that the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use Extra Caution Near Water, Snow and Sand - Water, snow and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Check the UV Index - The UV Index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent sun overexposure. The UV Index forecast is issued daily by the National Weather Service and EPA.
  • Get Vitamin D Safely - Get Vitamin D safely through a diet that includes vitamin supplements and foods fortified with Vitamin D. Don't seek the sun.

The EPA also has this neat tool that allows you to check the UV index for any area in the United States. Just plug in a zip code and it will tell you the strength of solar UV radiation on a scale of 1 (very low) to 12 (very high). The tool says that it shows the index for the next day, not the current day.

EPA: Action Steps for Sun Safety

EPA UV Index

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mulch Calculator

Green Your Garden
I'm almost done increasing the size of my front garden. During one of my rest breaks, I came in and did a quick internet search to find an online mulch calculator. Plenty of them showed up in my search, but I decided to share the one that I found on 1-800-Mulch-Pro, just because they have a lot of other great information about mulch on their website.

For instance, this is what their website says about the benefits of mulch:
What is Mulch used for?
  • Mulch prevents weeds from growing.
  • Mulch will maintain an even temperature in the soil. Warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  • Mulch protects the soil from soil erosion.
  • Mulch will conserve moisture.
  • Mulch provides a clean surface for accessing the garden.
  • Mulch can make a garden look neat and finished.
They have some good photos of the different types of mulch and the mulch calculator page has some nice diagrams of how to measure your garden.

I've never purchased anything from mulch pro (and, in fact, I never heard of them before this morning's search). But their website looks like a great resource!

While writing this post, I realized that I forgot to add "Use Mulch" as one of the options in this month's survey about ways to conserve water. (Whoops!) But why not take a moment and answer the survey anyway! It's in the right hand column of this blog. I promise I'll add that option in future surveys.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A cool Little Wave for a hot afternoon

Hubby and I worked in the yard this weekend. It was pretty brutal.  Today I worked on extending one of our gardens, which meant taking out quite a bit of grass and then moving the stone edging I have around the garden. It is one of our only gardens that gets full sun, so I was trying to extend this "prime real estate" area in our yard.

After half a day of working outside, I needed a break and came in and went through email, etc. Before I get out there and get in another hour's worth of work, I wanted to share this little video I found.

The things I love most about computers and social media websites are all of the neat people that I get to "meet" that have similar interests. I especially love "meeting" other writers, musicians and other creative types who are doing their part to help educate and encourage others to take care of the planet.

Since I just learned about it today, I haven't read this book. I just think it is a very cool idea and wanted to share it. Enjoy!

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