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!

Lovin’ Daisies

Meadow Daisies“She loves me… she loves me not.” Whichever way the petals fall, one thing is certain. We all love daisies. When other flowers are fading away in late summer, daisies stand long and tall, gracing our landscapes with abundant blossoms. Even those of us who’ve seen them invade our lawn and realized how hard the hardy plants were to get rid of love some kind of daisy, even if we hate those particular (usually hybrid) daisies.

The kinds of flowers commonly called daisies are actually a smaller group than what’s in the daisy or asteracae (aster) family. That large group that counts some 600 species includes sunflowers as well as daisies, cone flowers, and asters. Our personal favorites are the tiny alpine daisies that grow above timber in the highest mountain passes. Here in the southwest, annual African daisies are popular for their varied colors and drought resistance. What’s known as the New England daisy or aster — and this is one of the great things about daisies — actually grows all across the country. (more…)

Xeriscaping Principles

Xeriscape GardeningAs many parts of the country move into the dry season (some parts are already there; others have the opposite problem), it’s a good time to consider xeriscaping principles in our gardens and landscapes.

What is xeriscaping? Simply stated, it’s water-wise gardening. It’s not just about the water we use (or don’t) during times of drought. It also addresses our use of diminishing water supplies as demand — from population and housing growth, agriculture, industry (especially the natural gas industry) and, yes, drought — continue to tax finite water supplies. Xeriscaping is a way of continuing to have enjoyable landscapes in the face of less and more expensive water use.

The details of xeriscaping are encyclopedic. They’re linked to local soil, native plant, and climactic factors. But the basic principles are simple, common-sense measures and are easy to apply almost anywhere. Here are the eight principles, with our comments, listed in David Salman and Cindy Bellinger’s aptly titled and useful reference Waterwise Garden Care: Your Practical Guide published by High Country Gardens Publications. (more…)

Dandelion Control

Dandelion ControlYes, it is possible to get rid of dandelions without using toxic sprays. Here’s how:

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger has been taken to task for saying organic gardening is no harder and maybe even easier than conventional gardening. This came while addressing vegetable gardening and the context was that eventually you may have less weeding, less watering, and less problems with insects after you’ve been using organic practice for a while. The criticism came using one work-intensive example: getting rid of dandelions without using chemical sprays.

Our critical friend has a point. It’s so much easier getting rid of dandelions with Roundup or other herbicides that are designed to penetrate the length of the dandelion’s long tap root. But then you have a frightful chemical, one that’s been shown to put embryonic and kidney cells at risk, lingering in your soil. The other problem with these kinds of herbicides: they don’t stop new seed, which may have blown in from far away, from germinating. Once a new dandelion plant starts growing in your yard, it’s time to spray again. And Again. And… well, you get the picture. (more…)

Growing Organic Fruit

Organic ApplesReading through Danny L. Barney’s new book Storey’s Guide To Growing Organic Orchard Fruits (Storey Publishing) not only got us to thinking about what it takes to grow apples, pears, cherries and other fruits without chemical sprays, but also, like a lot of things, made us nostalgic.

Your sentimental, fruit-crazy Planet Natural Blogger grew up on a small orchard back in Nebraska that was sprayed heavily every year. My father was in the pest control business and had access to the compounds and equipment. I remember him fogging the whole place in an effort to keep the mosquitoes and other insects down. Insects weren’t the problem, and needless to say the sprays did nothing to alleviate our real problem, blight and blemishes (and we still ended up with mosquitoes anyway). He didn’t wear a mask or respirator when doing this and neither did we. But we loved to run through the fog much to his chagrin (Note: Dad’s long gone but we’re still healthy).

Maybe it was in reaction to this that — like a lot of former hippies — when we took to the land, we adopted an organic lifestyle. Those of us old enough to remember the Alar apple scare of 1989 probably aren’t surprised to know that the conventionally-grown fruits we buy are still tainted with harmful substances. Some of these chemicals are especially bad for children. (more…)

Healthy Turf — Aerate the Lawn!

Aerating the LawnSo you didn’t aerate the lawn last fall … and it needed it? It’s not too late in most parts of the country to aerate your organic lawn. And, if your lawn’s not organic, now’s the perfect time to begin converting it. And aerating is a big part of the change.

  • Why aerate? Your lawn may suffer from compaction, especially if you and your family are on it a lot (and you should be… why else would you have one?). Many of the lawn problems we blame on insects, lack of water, and poor fertilizer are actually due to compaction. The more your soil is compacted, the more likely you are to have problems with thatch. When you aerate – or “aerify” as my gardening dictionary calls it – you allow more oxygen into your soil, you help prevent run-off, and you break up grass roots, further encouraging them to grow. And you do it all without harmful chemical fertilizers! (more…)

Edible Flowers

Edible FlowersWhen planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.

My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).

We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. (more…)

Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?

No Mow LawnNo mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.

Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not. (more…)

Forcing Spring Blossoms

Forcing BlossomsIt’s hard waiting this time of year…for spring. Lots of us like to hurry the season by bringing in cut branches from pussy willow, flowering crab apple, and any other soon-to-blossom shrubs or fruit trees and “forcing” the trimmed branch to flower. Once it does, the branch — or several placed in a vase tall enough to hold them — brings us what we’re waiting for, the beautiful and often fragrant blossoms that have yet to appear out in the still- cold, early spring world.

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly how to do this. My grandmother used to bring in lilac twigs as soon as she saw signs of budding and just stick them in a jar with water. Her rule: the closer they are to blossoming outside, the better they’ll blossom inside.

But for those of us trying to get a jump on the season — albeit indoors — here’s some additional suggestions. Grandma was right about making sure there were signs of budding before bringing in any branch you hope to flower. Don’t be fooled: leaf buds will often appear a bit earlier than the buds that will break into blossoms. Learn to identify which are which (not a hard thing to do). (more…)

Spring Pruning

Pruning Apple TreesFor some of you mild climate types, it’s already too late. For us here in high altitude Santa Fe, where the first sign of budding is just ahead, it’s last call. For those of you in more temperate, colder climates… now’s the time to do your spring pruning. Did we say spring pruning? Actually, technically, what we mean is late-winter pruning, no matter what season the calendar claims. (It won’t yet be “late” winter, let alone spring, in some northern locations come March 21.) Our job is to get the pruning done before the sap starts to flow, which, of course, depends on the particular climate conditions of wherever we are.

Spring is a good time to prune because the pruning “wounds” won’t be exposed for as long to harsh conditions now that the growing season is just around the corner. Your tree’s shape and branches are more visible without its leaves. Dead and dying limbs are more easily spotted. This makes finding what to prune easier to see. (more…)

Sloping Backyard? Terrace Gardening

Terrace GardenTerracing — building level steps on sloping ground — is a technique that has been used since ancient times by farmers around the world to grow crops and gardens. Think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the beautiful terraced rice paddies of Asia. Terraces are one of a landscapers great tools in steep and hilly country. If your property tilts as much or more as it runs level, you might want to consider terrace gardening in your yard.

As part of good backyard conservation practice terraces can play a role in xeriscaping and water conservation. Not only do they allow you to reclaim space from the hillside to plant vegetables or flowers and shrubs — terraces can be very decorative — they’re also a great hedge against water runoff and soil erosion. They can also create warmer, sunnier micro-climates for growing light-and-heat-loving plants and vegetables. Now — in the dead of winter — is the perfect time of year to start visualizing your hillside alive with tomatoes, trailing vines, and stands of beautiful blossoms. (more…)

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