Dig Deeper

Want the scoop on the latest gardening tips – both indoors and out — as well as in-depth news and information on issues important to natural growers and everyone else interested in a healthy, earth-conscious life style? Here’s where to dig up the details on everything from soil amendments and organic pest control to heirlooms and safe, natural lawn care.

Seasonal Garden Care

Garden Care“To every thing there is a season…” Ecclesiastes

Garden care is a year-round activity, its rhythms dictated by seasonal conditions and local climates. April showers may bring spring flowers in temperate zones, late frosts and snow may continue at higher elevations while harvests of greens, peas and other vegetables may be well under way in the coastal south. Wherever you live, garden care is required throughout the year to a varying degree. The kind of attention and level of intensity depend on your growing zone and location. Whether you are mulching, fertilizing, planting or harvesting, there is work to be done all spring, summer, fall and winter. A little planning and consideration to the longevity and health of your plants and soil will give you an enviable yard and garden to be enjoyed year round.

Spring

Spring may come shortly after the New Year to coastal California and the South, not until May and June in the higher elevations of the West. You know when it reaches your area; the days begin to warm and nights hover above freezing, trees and shrubs swell with buds, lawns green in the first rains. Start a garden journal that records last frosts and other weather conditions, planting dates and germination times; any and all information that will be useful to future gardening seasons. (more…)

Flower Gardening 101

Flower GardeningA garden filled with flowers will brighten up and enliven any landscape.

Flower gardens can turn an ordinary area into a colorful showcase or create a border that pops. Whether you choose an easy to manage perennial or a particularly touchy annual, growing flowers is a rewarding addition to any yard or landscape.

Choosing Flowers

Selecting the right plants for your flower garden is often a matter of preference, but with so many species and varieties available it can be mind-boggling. Consider the following when designing a garden: hardiness, color, fragrance, height, time of bloom and size of plant. Do you want to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, or song birds? Or are you trying to create a work of beauty just for you? (more…)

Companion Gardening: Fact or Fiction

Companion PlantsAnd, ah, yes: ‘companion planting'; a topic laced with more folklore, hopefulness, bad information and just plain hype than just about any other in the gardening world. It’s said to have begun just as the world was going from BC to AD, when the oft-quoted Pliny the Elder wrote that the (highly toxic) plant rue was a “very friendly” companion to figs. – Mike McGrath, “The Truth About Companion Planting”

McGrath’s is not an uncommon position. Companion gardening is a messy topic than needn’t be messy. It’s messy first because a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense has been published on the topic, and second because even within the area of what makes sense, there’s a wide variety of approaches and techniques.

The basic idea behind companion garden planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. The devil is, as usual, in the details, in this case in the precise definition. (more…)

Companion Plants

Companion PlantingThe basic idea behind companion planting is both simple and sensible: many plants grow better near some companions than they do near others or when alone. By itself it will not work miracles, but applied in a well-maintained garden, it can produce startling results. It can drastically improve the use of space, reduce the number of weeds and garden pests, and provide protection from heat, wind, and even the crushing weight of snow. In the vegetable garden, all this adds up to the best thing of all: increased yield.

Most people think of companion planting in connection with vegetable gardens, but it can also be used when flower gardening and in full-scale fields. Some of the most familiar examples come from farming, where it’s a long-standing practice to sow vetch or some other legume in the fall after the harvest. This cover crop provides erosion control through storms, and supplies both nitrogen and organic material to the soil when it is plowed under in spring. (more…)

Reel Lawn Mowers

Reel WorkoutMow Better… Get Reel

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

You know the advantages of reel lawn mowers. They start every time. They’re much quieter than gas-powered mowers, so quiet that you can mow early Sunday morning without waking the neighbors. They’re fuel-free unless you count those bowls of cereal or peanut butter sandwiches that power your engine. They don’t degrade air quality (lawn mower engines are terribly inefficient and emit more than 10 times the hydrocarbons per amount of gas burned than auto engines). Not only are reel mowers great for the environment, they require little maintenance and are a great means of exercise. And, they’re cheaper than gas-powered mowers, both in initial outlay and operating costs.

What you may not know is that they’re better for your lawn than gas-powered, rotary mowers. Rotary lawn mowers tend to tear off the tops of grass blades, leaving them exposed to disease. Ever notice how the tops of each grass blade turn brown after mowing with a gas machine? A reel mower snips the grass, like scissors, leaving finer trimmings to mulch in your yard. This mulch not only nourishes your lawn, it prevents weed seeds from germinating. Rotary mowers also create a vacuum as they pass (that’s why they’re great for cutting tall, droopy weeds). They literally vacuum the mulch layer off the ground, providing an opportunity for weeds to find space to take root. Reel mowers will cut shorter (approximately 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 inches depending on the model) without disturbing the soil surface. (more…)

Organic Lawns, Healthy Soil

Sprinkler FunBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Here’s something of a Zen puzzle for you. The key to a healthy lawn is healthy, organic soil. And the key to healthy soil is a healthy, organic lawn.

Confused? Don’t be. Organic lawn care starts and ends with healthy soil, soil that is full of nutrients for both grass and the microorganisms that call your dirt their home; soil that is not compromised with toxins and synthetic chemicals that destroy those microorganisms. And nothing contributes to the health of your soil more than a thick, rich organic lawn, one that returns organic nutrients to your soil. In this win-win situation, organic lawn care can actually give you a more vibrant lawn than you would have with regular applications of commercial fertilizer.

To put it another way, the organic lawn is a self-sustaining lawn. (more…)

Organic Lawn Maintenance

Lawn MaintenanceWeeding, Watering and Mowing

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Your new organic lawn is up and growing. Or you’ve cut out using herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers on your established lawn. Congratulations! Now what do you do to maintain your organic lawn in a way that’s best for it?

Not surprisingly, what you do to keep up your organic lawn is pretty much the same as you would with a traditional lawn. One difference? It may be less work to keep up your organic lawn. How is that possible? By using spring and fall applications of compost, by returning your grass clippings back to your lawn, by proper watering you will have a rich, thick cover of grass that will crowd out weeds and discourage pests. And you thought this would be difficult. (more…)

How I Learned to Love My Reel Mower

Reel Lawn MowingAll you need to know about buying & using a push reel mower.

I live in a subdivision in Bozeman, Montana where the grass is always greener in the neighbor’s yard, but somehow always longer in mine. Everybody’s expected to keep up with the Jones’ when it comes to keeping a clean and orderly yard — which means lots of weed control as well as trimming the blades of grass to near golf-course perfection.

But, as my neighborhood has filled in with houses, I’ve realized how much time and effort we’ve all been putting into our lawns. The guy down the street has one of those mini-tractor jobs. The family across from me uses the old self-propelled model that’s heavy and although it’s motorized, you still have to push pretty hard to get it to go anywhere. Our yards are alive with the high-pitched whine of motorized lawn mowers every summer. (more…)

The Grass is Greener with Organic Lawn Care

Backyard FunWhat’s there not to like about an organic lawn? It’s relatively cheap. It’s better for the environment and it takes less work than your traditional well-manicured turf.

Americans take their lawns seriously. Lawns used to be for the wealthy who hired a staff to maintain the grounds of their estates. Now they are for everyone. The great equalizer was the invention of the push mower in the 1870’s by Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana. (Before that, a common and labor-intensive way to trim lawns was to use scythes.) Today, U.S. homeowners spend more than $17 billion on outdoor home improvements, including lawn care.

While many of us spend a lot to get our grass mowed, fertilized and sprayed with chemicals to deter weeds and troublesome insects, it doesn’t have to be so.

The good news is that going organic makes good sense when it comes to lawn care. It takes less effort and makes for a lawn that’s safer for you, your family and your pets. (more…)

Dangerous Backyards

Spreading Lawn FertilizerLawn Chemicals Could Risk Your Family’s Health

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

The most important reason to keep an organic lawn? The health of your family. The second? The health of your planet. If you think those two reasons are one and the same, you’re right. Traditional lawn care products that use synthetic fertilizers and chemical herbicides not only put your family and pets at risk but endanger the world at large. That’s something we all want to avoid.

Stories about the dangerous consequences of lawn chemicals abound. Nearly 50 school children in Ohio developed symptoms of poisoning after herbicides were sprayed near their school. A professional skater makes a claim in Newsweek that her health was “destroyed” after exposure to pesticides sprayed on a neighbor’s lawn (her dog died the same day). Seven dogs die after eating paraquat herbicide in Portland, Oregon park. A noted soil scientist warns the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that a popular dandelion spray may cause infertility and spontaneous abortion. (more…)

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