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!

Drought and the Home Garden

Summer Garden HeatNo doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.

Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same. (more…)

Garden Planning: Form and Function

Vegetable GardenSurprisingly — or not — garden planning has become more important the smaller my garden gets. When I started out with the first plot of my very own back some (garbled) years ago, I had plenty of room. It was easy to plot crop rotations year to year and find space for vegetables I’d never tried before. Sure, I’d pour over the seed catalogs, then order too much. I’d draw up a plan that I often deviated from when I actually put my garden in. Because the entire, quarter-acre space was in full sunlight when the sun indeed shone there in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I didn’t have to worry about plants to grow in shaded parts of the garden (except for that spot just north of the Jerusaleum artichoke patch). But I did have to worry about selecting vegetables that grew well in cool, cloudy locations, pretty much the same thing. (more…)

Front Yard Vegetable Gardening

Front Yard GardenThe press is fascinated with stories about communities that go after front yard gardeners. Some areas have covenants or (worse) laws making gardening in one’s front yard a no-no. These often are affluent enclaves where investment-minded owners are nervous about protecting their property values. But not all. Sometimes regular communities, in a freedom-quashing pursuit of conformity, will take up the cause; as if front yard gardens might hurt the price of real estate.

The most recent article is this long look from The New York Times. Time magazine got in on the action last year. According to them, it’s all about “meddling local officials gone off the deep end” and the relative value of all that, care-intensive grass (vs. something you can eat) grown for the questionable purpose of keeping up appearances.

Of course, this isn’t an issue in every community. While living long ago in anything-goes Venice, California, we grew tomatoes, peppers, basil and squash in hardly-raised beds as well as lettuce and other greens along the path that led to our front door. This was on a walk street, a lane where the houses didn’t face a street but only a sidewalk, and we weren’t the only ones growing vegetables out our front door. (more…)

Phosphorus Apocalypse

Phosphorus MineWorried that we’re facing the end of the world on December 21st as supposedly predicted by the Mayan Calendar and supported by mass marketers of survival gear? Your timid and easily-frightened Planet Natural Blogger says don’t bother. We have bigger, more reality-based problems to face. Of course, I’m talking about the exhaustion of the world’s supply of phosphorous fertilizer.

Every gardener worth her or his compost knows what phosphorus is. It’s the “P” in the N-P-K ratio. Plants need phosphorus for photosynthesis. It helps plants develop strong root systems, increases resistance and helps plants utilize CO2. It stimulates growth in the first part of a plants life and helps increase yields in their last stage. Its use over the last century is credited with fueling the so-called “green” revolution, the ability of commercial farming to feed the world’s exploding population. It’s also important to humans, necessary for respiration, metabolism and building strong bones. We get phosphorus from the fruits and vegetables we eat. (more…)

Container Gardening 101

Container GardeningTips and techniques for gardening in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes.

Container-grown plants can be an addition to an already flourishing landscape or a garden all by themselves. By planting in nursery pots, buckets, whiskey barrels, grow bags, or whatever else you find around the house, you’ll be adding aesthetic interest and practicality to your yard and home.

Container gardening is useful when…

  • you want to move warmth-loving plants into the house for the winter.
  • controlling the soil quality is desired.
  • there isn’t much space available.
  • you want to grow fresh, yummy herbs and veggies (or pretty flowers) year-round.
  • adding height, texture and variety to the yard is important.

(more…)

Live Christmas Trees

Christmas TreeWhat’s not to like about a live Christmas tree? After serving as the center of holiday celebrations, they come to anchor family memories in an honored place in your yard. They’re less a fire hazard when inside the home and once out they provide all the beauty and CO2 reducing benefits, no matter how tiny, to the environment. Planting a living tree, the one your kids were around when they opened their gifts, is a great family activity.

But how many times have you heard this? “We bought a living tree for the holidays but it died after we planted it.” Otherwise successful arborists find getting a living Christmas tree to take a risky proposition. Why? The planting of living Christmas trees happen under two special circumstances. The trees spend a period of time indoors under warm conditions that replicate spring thaw. This signals the tree — prematurely — that it’s time to start the growing season. The second circumstance is winter planting. The middle of winter isn’t the ideal time for putting trees in the ground.

Having a living tree in your home surrounded by presents on Christmas morning and then having it transferred to an honored place in your landscape — for years! — is not an impossibility. But it does take extra special care. Basically, after buying the tree, you store it cold, recreate the conditions of a short winter thaw when you bring it inside, then recondition it to cold and outdoor planting. The other problem is digging the hole. If the ground is solidly frozen, well, even your ice fishing auger won’t be much help. (more…)

Preparing Garden Soil

Organic Garden SoilHealthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”

Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil. (more…)

Organic Fertilizer Benefits

Healthy PlantsWhy not use chemical fertilizers? It’s a reasonable question. After all, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ARE chemicals, so where is the advantage in these bags of heavy, grainy stuff, that need to be measured and mixed and then dug in, when you can just pick up a small plastic bottle of the blue stuff?

There are several organic fertilizer benefits, some purely altruistic, others much more self-interested. First of all, most chemical fertilizers provide only that well-known trio, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three, known as the macro-nutrients, are indeed required in greater quantity than any others, but they are only three of the thirteen nutrients plants need. The three chemicals that qualify as secondary nutrients, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are generally ignored, as are the trace nutrients, boron, chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. While these are needed in far smaller quantities than the macro-nutrients, they are still essential. (more…)

Theme Gardens: Now there’s an idea!

Butterfly GardenYou may not know the term “theme gardens,” but you’d recognize one if you saw one. A Japanese garden is a theme garden. So is an herb garden, and a rose garden, and a rock garden. A garden with only shades of blue has a theme, as does a maze, or a garden with a dozen fountains, or one with a little gnome behind every second bush. Any garden organized around some unifying idea is a theme garden.

Clearly, there’s an infinite range of choices, for theme gardens can be arranged around types of plant (such as gardens growing roses, growing herbs, and even growing vegetables) or around colors, shapes, or the type of visitors you wish to attract, such as butterflies, honeybees or birds. Other options include a country, a historical period, or an ethnic group. Examples of ethnic gardens include the Japanese garden mentioned above, or the African American Garden described by the DuSable Museum of African American History, an Italian garden, or the Native American garden grown by an elementary school in Illinois (see link below).
(more…)

Sustainable Gardening: It’s All The Rage!

Organic VegetablesTips, Principles and Practices for the Organic Vegetable Gardener

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Sustainability is a movement that embraces all facets of human endeavor. “Sustainable” means to perpetuate existence as well as to provide sustenance and nourishment. Today, the word is attached to everything from forestry to ceiling tile.

Sustainability is most often associated with the environment and specifically to our landscapes and gardens. What is a sustainable garden? It is an organic garden taken a step further. Following organic gardening practices will sustain soils and plants while it nourishes and sustains your family, both physically and aesthetically. Organic gardening also points us towards other gardening practices that pursue the goal of sustainability by conserving resources. (more…)

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