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!

The Grass is Greener with Organic Lawn Care

Backyard FunWhat’s there not to like about an organic lawn? It’s relatively cheap. It’s better for the environment and it takes less work than your traditional well-manicured turf.

Americans take their lawns seriously. Lawns used to be for the wealthy who hired a staff to maintain the grounds of their estates. Now they are for everyone. The great equalizer was the invention of the push mower in the 1870’s by Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana. (Before that, a common and labor-intensive way to trim lawns was to use scythes.) Today, U.S. homeowners spend more than $17 billion on outdoor home improvements, including lawn care.

While many of us spend a lot to get our grass mowed, fertilized and sprayed with chemicals to deter weeds and troublesome insects, it doesn’t have to be so.

The good news is that going organic makes good sense when it comes to lawn care. It takes less effort and makes for a lawn that’s safer for you, your family and your pets. (more…)

Dangerous Backyards

Spreading Lawn FertilizerLawn Chemicals Could Risk Your Family’s Health

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

The most important reason to keep an organic lawn? The health of your family. The second? The health of your planet. If you think those two reasons are one and the same, you’re right. Traditional lawn care products that use synthetic fertilizers and chemical herbicides not only put your family and pets at risk but endanger the world at large. That’s something we all want to avoid.

Stories about the dangerous consequences of lawn chemicals abound. Nearly 50 school children in Ohio developed symptoms of poisoning after herbicides were sprayed near their school. A professional skater makes a claim in Newsweek that her health was “destroyed” after exposure to pesticides sprayed on a neighbor’s lawn (her dog died the same day). Seven dogs die after eating paraquat herbicide in Portland, Oregon park. A noted soil scientist warns the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that a popular dandelion spray may cause infertility and spontaneous abortion. (more…)

Growing a Natural Lawn

Playing in the GrassHomeowners choose to maintain an organic or natural lawn for different reasons. For some, it is a commitment to the environment — pesticides and herbicides used in traditional lawn care leach into the water table contaminating it for people, animals and plants.

Others are concerned with how pesticides and herbicides affect the pets and kids that play on their lawns. And some people just don’t want to handle chemicals designed to kill living things.

There’s also the cost — both in time and money. Lawn chemicals can get expensive, and who wants to spend every weekend mowing the lawn? Natural lawns tend to require less mowing, which means more leisure time for you!

Whatever your reason, natural lawn care is easiest if you take the time to create a healthy environment that grasses thrive in. (more…)

Container Gardens with Altitude

Vertical GardensGardening requires lots of water… most of it in the form of perspiration. – Lou Erickson

Don’t have much garden space? Want to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and just about any other kind of veggie on a vine? If so, consider vertical gardening.

Many plant supports, including trellises, nets, cages or stakes can be used to maximize your garden in small areas. Not only will you save valuable space, but growing container plants vertically can turn just about any nook or cranny into a beautiful garden spot.

Even if you have plenty of room, vertical gardens will help keep plants up off the ground. They can also be used to define landscaped areas, by creating interesting focal points and eye-pleasing boundaries. Advantages include:

  • Fruits and flowers are less susceptible to pest damage.
  • Cultivating and harvesting is easier.
  • More plants can be grown with less space.
  • Can be used as a privacy screen or to cover up unsightly views.
  • Provides better air circulation, reducing fungal problems.
  • Allows for more efficient watering.
  • Yields are generally higher.
  • Creates a shady spot in the garden.
  • Monitoring and managing pests is easier.

(more…)

Fertilizing Potted Plants

Fertilizing PlantsEarly to bed, early to rise, Work like hell: fertilize. – Emily Whaley

Whether you are growing indoors or out, fertilizer is essential to the success of container gardens. The easiest way to go about fertilizing potted plants is by preparing a nutrient solution and pouring it over the soil mix. The fertilizer is absorbed by the roots and quickly adds what is missing from the existing soil. Even if your potting mix is perfect from the get-go, it will soon become depleted of nutrients as they are constantly used up by plants and leached out by watering. The faster a plant grows the more fertilizer and water it will require. Consequently, as watering is increased so is leaching and nutrient loss. (more…)

Sunlight and Potted Plants

Plant LightTurn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. – Maori Proverb

All potted plants need sunlight, but how much varies from plant to plant.

For example, vegetables grown for their fruits or seeds, like tomatoes, peppers and corn, need around six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Ideally, this might be from dawn until about three in the afternoon. The sun is often hottest (and toughest on plants) from after three until just before sundown. Leafy crops such as Swiss chard, lettuce and cabbage can tolerate much less sun and plants such as flowers and herbs may have different lighting requirements depending on the varieties grown.

When deciding what plants to grow, check their labels and read seed packets for specific lighting recommendations. Also, become familiar with the amount of sunlight a specific garden spot receives. If possible, try to imagine the change in sun exposure as trees grow leaves and the seasons change. For productive container gardens, do not combine plants with vastly different lighting preferences, especially if growing several containers in one area, or many plants in one container. (more…)

Watering Potted Plants

Watering PlantsContainer grown plants dry out quickly and require more water than their backyard counterparts growing in open soil. This is because potting soil is often lighter and less compact than regular garden soil and the water holding capacity around the plant is determined by the size of the container. Watering potted plants once a day or even twice daily may be necessary, especially if the weather turns hot and windy or your containers are in full sunlight. Watch closely, and check moisture levels often. If the growing media appears pale or cracked, or feels dry below the soil’s surface, it’s time to water.

The easiest way to water container plants is with a watering can or gentle hose. However, when you water make sure that you are watering the soil and not just the plant’s leaves. Continue watering until it runs out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. The idea is to water thoroughly but allow enough time between waterings for the soil to begin drying out. A moisture meter, available at many garden centers, can be used to instantly determine when to water your plants. If the potting mix remains soggy for too long, air will be forced away from the roots and your plants may suffocate or drown. (more…)

Planting in Pots

Herbs in PotsAll gardeners know better than other gardeners. – Chinese Proverb

Whether you purchase plants in beautiful new planters or plastic nursery pots, there comes a time when they will need to be repotted. Fortunately, planting in pots is relatively easy.

Prior to planting, carefully clean out the container you intend to use with warm soapy water and rinse well. This is especially important if reusing older containers, as dirty pots may harbor insect eggs and disease spores. If using terra-cotta containers, rinsing and soaking with water will have the added benefit of saturating the many tiny pores in the clay, preventing them from wicking moisture away from the soil. (more…)

Selecting Pots for Plants

Pots for PlantsHalf the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. – Mrs. C.W. Earle

When choosing pots for plants … be creative! Try anything from an old boot, to that 16th century Baroque urn you just “had to have.” Just about anything can be used as a pot for plants providing it drains well (roots will rot in soggy soil) and doesn’t get too hot sitting in the sun. If the pot you select doesn’t have enough drainage holes, make sure to drill at least one “good-sized” hole for every gallon of soil used. If you can’t drill or punch holes into a particular planter, you can sometimes work around this, by planting in a separate pot and setting it inside the container you prefer.

When selecting a pot, it’s important to consider the size of the plant — or plants — you will be growing. Yes, size does matter! If the pot is too small, plants will quickly become rootbound and the soil will not be able to hold enough moisture between waterings. Plants that are allowed to dry out, or wilt, will not be productive. (more…)

Using Autumn’s Bounty

Autumn LeavesBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Leaves, easily turned into protective mulch, soil-enhancing leaf mold or rich compost, are the fall season’s gift to the composter. After the last tomatoes are picked, the standing greens harvested, the squash brought in and the carrots pulled, nature provides a bounty that assures the next year’s crops will have the best soil possible. Let your non-gardening neighbors curse autumn’s raking tasks. Composters rejoice in the piles of mineral-rich organic material that trees graciously shed just for them.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little too much hyperbole. Still, it’s hard not to get poetic about leaves. Sure, raking can be hard work even for composters who know the value in each and every leaf. But leaves have long been a treasure for the gardeners: easily available, rich in nutrients, an effective mulch in winter and summer and, once decomposed, extremely beneficial to the soil. (more…)

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