Lawns & Landscapes

You want to make your lawns and landscapes, the places where your children play and your vegetables grow, as safe as possible. We provide the information – and practical experience – to help you do it.

Organic Lawn Care 101 – Lawn Maintenance

Lawn CareThe Grass is Greener … and Safer!

Lawns may have been invented in Europe, but they’ve reached their apotheosis in North America. For those in the U.S. of A, that green, green grass ranks right up there with apple pie, backyard barbecues and softball. For Canadians it’s proof of place, both a responsibility and a privilege, like wearing decent clothes when you leave the house. Keep your teeth clean and your grass green. In the lower 48 states and much of southern Canada, grass is practically an obsession.

The problem with the perfect lawn is that it wreaks havoc on both your wallet and the environment. Between 30 and 40 million acres of land in the U.S. are devoted to turfgrass (see Curbing the Lawn), and Americans collectively spend big bucks — about $40 billion annually — on seed, sod and chemicals. In Canada, which has around one tenth the population of the U.S., sales from all lawn care products have risen steadily over the past five years, to over $2 billion by 2007. (more…)

Save Water On Your Lawn

Watering the LawnTips for using less water when city restrictions demand it.

The drought, widespread and persistent, continues across great swaths of the United States. The effects of climate change and heavy demands on water use have seen formerly reliable supplies dwindle. Cities and counties across the nation, from Williams, Arizona (natch) to Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, from the St. Johns River district in north central Florida to Chanhassen, Minnesota and all across California have put water use and watering restrictions in place. What’s their most frequent target? Watering of lawns.

We’ve frequently considered the water spent on lawns and have advocated replacing them with native grasses or something altogether different. But let’s face it. Kids like lawns, dogs like lawns, and we like lawns too for family activities. We’ll cut back on lawn as the kids grow up. But for now . . . badminton! (more…)

Avoiding Water Stressed Plants

Watering PlantsMake sure your plants don’t receive too little or too much water.

Though it’s not true everywhere — the forecast today for Bozeman includes a 40% chance of scattered showers — we’re fast approaching that time of the growing season when your garden, lawns and flower beds included, need to be closely monitored for moisture. How do we know when our plants aren’t getting enough water? They tell us.

Water stress is the term used to denote any moisture-related problems that plants might have. This includes too much water as well as too little. Water stress can also be caused by the quality of the water given to the plants. Water containing too many dissolved salts or grey (recycled) water that contains pollutants can also stress plants. (Phosphorous, found in many home detergents and soaps, can actually aid plant growth if proper amounts aren’t exceeded… Tip: use natural cleaning products.)

As every gardener knows, determining when plants need water is easy: their leaves wilt. But of course, you don’t want to get to this point. When you spot wilting, you’ve already stressed your plant. (more…)

Controlling Weeds By Design

Landscape DesignDefeat unwanted plants in your landscape by planning ahead.

A spark of warm weather and everything’s growing great guns in the garden. And that includes the weeds. Time to get down on our knees and start pulling the plants in our vegetable gardens and flower beds that don’t belong.

If only we’d planned to control them from the start.

Attacking weeds at ground level by pulling them is often the organic gardener’s last line of defense. Though we’re doused in advertisements this time of year showing us how easy it is to spray a dangerous herbicide — they don’t tell us about the dangerous part — that will rid our lawns of dandelions and otherwise kill the green invaders in our landscapes, spraying just isn’t our thing. (more…)

Taking Care of Fruit Trees . . . Organically

Fruit TreeA comprehensive guide to fruit and nut tree problems for organic growers.

Nothing causes organic gardeners more worries, and more temptation to resort to harmful sprays and other treatments, than problems with fruit trees. You might disagree — after all, the pest and disease problems we have with our plants depends on what we grow and where we grow it — but anyone that’s had to deal with blights, cankers, or caterpillars knows there’s little guidance and few cures that don’t resort to spraying something awful on the trees and bushes that produce the fruits our children will eat. (more…)

Bees, Butterflies Both Battling Demise

Protect our PollinatorsPesticide use may leave us a world without pollinators.

With good news comes bad. Preliminary reports from the winter of 2013-2014 gathered by the Department of Agriculture and the Bee Informed Partnership have found that loss of honey bee colonies from all causes was 23.2%, down from 30.5% the previous winter. For the full 12 months — April 2013 to April 2014 — the 7,183 beekeepers who responded to the survey reported losing 34.2% of their 670,568 colonies.

The full report can be found here.

How is this good news? The 23.2% figure is well below the 8-year average total loss of 29.6% and much less than the 36% loss suffered in 2007-2008. But hopes that bee colony collapse numbers have turned a corner are premature. (more…)

Healthy Yards, Healthy People, Healthy Planet

Healthy Kids, Healthy LawnThe movement to take the poisons from our lawns is growing.

We love this time of year when the grass is coming up thick and green and we need to mow almost once a week. But it’s also the time of year when we’re assaulted by lawn care companies wanting us to sign up for a full season’s worth of care. What’s that care consist of? Why spraying fertilizer and herbicide, of course.

Now we’ve addressed using harmful chemicals on our lawns before. And we still think that a good solution, especially where saving water is important (and that’s a lot of places these days), is to plant a xeric, drought-tolerant lawn. But lawns are wonderful things, certainly for those of us who have families. They are the places our children play, where our pets roam, where we gather with friends and relatives to recreate or just enjoy the solace of being outdoors. We want them to be as safe as possible. (more…)

Last Call for Planting Fruit Trees

Planting Fruit TreesApple, peach, cherry, plums and others planted now can provide a lifetime of rewards.

In a practice — raising one’s own food — that’s full of satisfying activity, there’s little as satisfying as planting fruit trees. Fruit trees planted this season will, in a few years, provide us a lifetime of nourishing harvests, harvests that we will enjoy with our children, harvest that, with the right care of our trees, will nourish their children as well. And there’s hardly a more joyful experience than picking a ripe plum or peach or apple or handful of cherries and enjoying them right there in the shade of your own orchard. (more…)

Herbicide Found In Mother’s Milk

Baby Girl SleepingDoes America’s most-used weed killer endanger infants?

A recent study has found that the herbicide glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup (and others), is present in alarming levels in breast milk of American females. The study found that samples of mother’s milk from women in the United States contained levels of the weed-killer that were 760 to 1,600 time greater than the amount of pesticides allowed by the European Water Directive. Those levels are still less than the 700 ug/l maximum contaminant level (MCL) that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided is safe.

The findings are sure to be controversial. The EPA contamination level was decided on the much-challenged assumption that glyphosate was excreted and did not accumulate in the human body. Those non-accumulation findings were based on studies sponsored by, among others, Monsanto, the maker of Roundup. (more…)

Learning To Love Moss

MossEasy to grow and care for, moss can make green carpets under shade trees, provide color and texture to rock gardens, or replace entire lawns.

Moss is most often seen as a problem, not a solution. It’s been called “one of the most persistent and annoying weeds” that occurs in home lawns.” Moss is a weed? I guess you can see it that way if it’s taking over from turf beneath trees or in other shaded and usually moist areas. Getting rid of moss often means improving soil, making it more favorable to growing grass. Just raking out patches of moss won’t eradicate it. Unless grass will take over, moss will come back. And creating the conditions for grass to grow where moss has grown before, can mean everything from working the soil to improving drainage, adjusting pH, even pruning or chopping down trees.

Might it be better just to learn to live with moss?

Not surprisingly, moss’ negative reputation is changing as more and more people discover its use as an alternative to a grass lawn. For one thing, you don’t have to mow it. And you don’t have to weed it (or spray it with herbicide). Moss grows so tightly that weeds don’t stand a chance. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to water it if you live somewhere with moderate precipitation. It may turn yellow or brown between rains but will green up with even just a drizzle. And it will grow in sunlight, though it may not be suitable for a yard in a sunny climate that doesn’t have a bit of shade. (more…)

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