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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…)

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…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (more…)

Preventing, Curing Gray Snow Mold

Lawn DiseaseKeeping lawns exposed to wet springs and slowly melting snow from falling to disease.

The vagaries of climate variation across the country this winter suggests that we might be seeing the dreaded gray snow mold surface in lawns where it hasn’t been seen before. Those of us familiar with late snow covers, cold, damp springs, and other conditions favorable to lawn diseases are well familiar with this problem.

Gray snow mold is a common problem in areas where snow cover persists into the spring as temperatures warm. It shows itself in circular or irregularly shaped gray or brown spots in the lawn that can range from an inch or two across to over a foot or more. Fuzzy gray strings, known as mycelia, may stretch across and out from the area, especially as the snow melts away. (more…)

Water Purity and Organic Gardening

Watering the GardenThe small things we do to keep pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals out of our water supply.

The recent events in West Virginia have us thinking about water. In the meantime, we keep up on the situation, with help from Ken Ward Jr.’s excellent reporting at the West Virginia Gazette.

We do our bit in protecting water resources, foregoing chemical fertilizers and pesticides in our home space, keeping them out of the soil, keeping them from running off to streets and storm drains. Most of the benefit comes right on the ground where we live — the knowledge that the fruits and vegetables we grow, the yard where our children play, both are free of potentially harmful chemicals. But we also like to think of ourselves as making a contribution to overall water purity. An event like the one in West Virginia — the drinking water for some 300,00 people poisoned — makes us realize how small our backyard contribution is against massive spills on the commercial level.

We want clean, safe water coming into our homes and going into our gardens. The West Virginia incident shows us just how vulnerable and fragile our water resources are. Safe supplies of water have long been a global issue. Adequate supplies and water rights have long been a fixture in the U.S. Always an issue in the West, water rights and distribution are sparking battles between states and various interests. (more…)

New Year News

News FlashGMOs questioned, labeling laws, xeric grass, and the popularity of gardening.

– In Europe, the number of scientists and other experts contesting EU chief science adviser Anne Glover’s statement that genetically modified foods are no less risky than conventional, natural grown foods continues to grow. Over 275 specialists have signed a document that states that GM foods have not been proven safe and that existing research raises concerns, according to GM Watch, a European organization that monitors and reports on issues relating to genetically manipulated food sources.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, chair of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, told GM Watch, “We’re surprised and pleased by the strong support for the statement. It seems to have tapped into a deep concern in the global scientific community that the name of science is being misused to make misleading claims about the safety of GM technology.” (more…)

Gardener’s New Year Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionGardening practice, like the garden itself, can always be improved. We resolve to do more, do better.

I’ve always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions even if I wasn’t completely successful in keeping them. I can get behind the idea of taking stock of where you are, what you need to change; all with an eye to improvement or the realization of a goal or two. It’s good medicine.

Gardeners have more opportunity at this than most. Sure, everyone at least considers turning over a new leaf at the beginning of the year. But gardeners consider these resolve-to-make-it-better ideas when they plant in the spring, put the garden to bed in the fall, and all winter long as they peruse seed catalogs, read old gardening journals, and draw schematics that show exactly where the tomatoes will go. They’re always resolving to do something. (more…)

Ornamental Berries for the Holidays

Holly BerriesRed holly and ornamental berries of all hues bring color to winter gardens.

Almost any holiday display with trees or pine boughs or bunting is enlivened by a show of bright red berries. They’re like a splash of color on the cold gray winter. We equally, probably more so, like to see berries outdoors, naturally, in our yard and neighborhood. If those berries are in your yard, you’ll probably recall the spring blossoms that preceded them. We love to see ornamental berries in our hedges and against fences, especially when a light touch of snow gives them sharp contrast.

Of course, this time of year we’re seeing holly berries. Holly played an important holiday role when we lived on the rainy Pacific coast. We’d cut holly early and let it dry in our attic, making sure to keep an eye out for mold. When it came time to ship presents back east, we’d pack the boxes with holly. The holly served as both protective padding but also as decoration once it made it back to the high plains. (more…)

Bee Decline and Chemical Companies

Bee HiveBayer CropScience claims its pesticides aren’t involved in colony collapse, blames mites.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger doesn’t like to think of himself as the cynical sort. But then you read something in the news and can’t help but shake your head. It seems that the Bayer CropScience corporation, the manufacturer of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that’s been implicated in the colony collapse disorder that’s decimating bee populations around the globe, has taken it on themselves to find the “real” culprit in bee decline. And what have they come with? It’s the varroa mite!

While the mite has long been a foe of bees and beekeepers, its presence doesn’t explain the extreme decline that bee colonies have suffered in the last several years. Many scientists, and many more beekeepers believe that the relatively new class of chemical known as neonicotinoids is responsible. The European Union recently banned the chemicals so that its effect on bees could be studied. (more…)

Landscaping With Native Grasses

Native GrassesNative and ornamental grasses add texture, movement to the xeriscape.

Now that our lawns, garden plots, and everything else is covered in a blanket of snow — a blank slate of sorts — we start to think about how we want them to look next spring and summer. What we’re picturing during this dose of dead-of-winter-in-late-fall weather is grass, not the kind that comes in rolled strips and requires mowing and lots of water. We’re thinking of bold, unique grasses that require far less watering and no mowing whatsoever (though we might be trimming them back in the late fall or winter).

Why are we thinking grasses? For the reasons already stated. They need less water than a lawn and less care. They’re much more adaptable to organic growing without chemical fertilizers. (more…)

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