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.

Share tips and ask questions over at our Lawns and Landscape Forum. Because, the grass doesn’t always have to grow greener next door!

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…)

Growing Holly for the Holidays

Winter HollyFind the right kind of holly for your landscape and grow it!

We love the ever-green, natural plants associated with the holidays: the firs and pine trees celebrated in song, the poinsettia, mistletoe  (actually a parasite that attaches itself to trees from which it draws water and nutrition). But our favorite, despite the fact that no presents go under it, is holly.

We had a large holly bush growing against the south side of one of our out-buildings when we lived on a small hippie homestead in the Pacific Northwest. Partially shaded a couple hours each day by two very large Douglas firs that were several yards away, the bush grew up to the roof and supplied a bounty of sprigs and red berries each year without any care from us. (more…)

Conifers In the Winter Landscape

Snowy ConiferGrowing evergreens takes planning, care … and water.

Our latest cold snap here in Bozeman is breaking and the forecast says that tomorrow the temperature will rise above freezing for the first time in, well, I don’t even want to think about it. As winter sets in more than a month before its calendar arrival, it reminds us how much we love evergreens. With the leaves dead and mostly gone from the deciduous trees, we never lack in our favorite color. Luckily conifers of all types keep us in green through the long winter.

We in the West love our pines and firs and spruce and junipers. Not only are there native varieties to plant, but grafted or otherwise naturally altered evergreens will also do well in cold and colder environments.The native conifers tend to be water-wise plants, able to exist in your natural xeriscape. Many are appropriate for planting on inclines and side hills where drainage is good. That’s because they can get by on less water. (more…)

Late Season Bulb Planting

Flower BulbsTips for planting your favorite fall bulbs.

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger is on the record saying that, depending how severe your winters, the best place to store any extra spring-blooming bulbs you might have is in the ground. Bulbs generally don’t store well inside and even those you carefully pack in containers of sawdust or peat moss and kept in the garage or basement (if it’s cool enough) aren’t all going to make it. Those that do will be something other than the bulbs you started with.

The common wisdom on planting bulbs in fall — tulips, daffodils, iris, hyacinths, crocus, and others — is that they should be planted at first frost. Some hardy bulbs, like the crocus colchicum, take to earlier planting than others, They need at least five weeks before the ground freezes hard to develop. In some northern and high elevation areas, that five-weeks is drawing to a close. Timing your planting, of course, depends on your particular conditions. (more…)

Your Grandfather’s Apples

Heirloom Apple TreeHeirloom apple trees yield treasures from the past.

This time of the year, when cider presses across the country are squeezing day and night, is a good time to consider the bounty of apples we enjoy. We’re not talking about the stacks of Gala and Fuji and Granny Smith that decorate the produce sections of our local supermarkets. We’re talking about the heirloom apples we find in farmers markets and produce stands, and in our backyard gardens or those of our neighbors, apples with names like Grand Alexander, Cornish Gilliflower, and Macoun (pronounced “McCowan”), apples that taste nothing like the commercial fruits flooding grocery stores. These apples, with various origins and histories, are a link to our past as well as a direct connection to a heritage that may have been lost if not for some persistent and skilled fruit growers. (more…)

Koi Ponds and Water Gardens

Koi PondKoi ponds and water gardens have been popular for hundreds of years because of their beauty and serenity. Koi are traditional symbols of good luck in Chinese and Japanese culture, with each variety representing different aspects of life such as love, wealth, or happiness. These fish are hardy and do very well in controlled environments like backyard water gardens. Keep reading to find out more about how to put together a healthy environment for these stunning fish.

History of Koi Ponds

With their playful demeanor and rich history of bringing good luck, koi are the perfect addition to any backyard water garden. Dating back centuries to China and Japan, these fish were originally kept as pets by emperors because they were thought to transform into dragons. Nowadays, koi ponds are prized for their beauty and tranquility. The word “koi” in Japanese means “affection, love, and friendship,” so the presence of koi in a backyard pond has become a symbol of luck and love. (more…)

Butterfly Gardening Resource Guide

ButterflyButterfly gardening belongs to a growing school of gardening that focuses on the preservation of wildlife. It focuses on creating an environment for butterflies to thrive and reproduce. Gardeners who specialize in butterfly gardening place nectar-producing plants and host plants around the garden with hopes of attracting these beautiful insects. Each person has their own reason for creating a butterfly sanctuary that ranges from purely aesthetic to passionate about preserving the species. Many people find a fluttering rainbow fascinating enough to create a garden that attracts butterflies. Others take a more scientific approach by raising or rearing butterflies from ova to imago. Regardless of the reasoning behind this brand of niche gardening, people tend to love it and do so with a clear conscious. Find out more about butterfly gardening below. (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…)

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