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.

Fall In the Xeriscape

Fall GardenWatering in the fall can be particularly problematic. Conditions continue to be dry and trees, shrubs, and lawns need water to avoid stress. Too little water during the fall and winter months can cause root die-off, something that may not be noticeable until well into the next growing season. Water stress during fall and winter can also mean that weakened plants will be more susceptible to insects and disease come summer. Too much water during these seasons can be a bad thing. In areas where there are water restrictions, autumn may require you to do more with even less.

Here’s an excellent article on watering trees and shrubs in the fall from the Colorado State University Extension Service. Some takeaways: shrubs and perennials with shallow root systems are most in need of water during these seasons to avoid root die-off. Mulch is important, not just in keeping moisture in the soil but to prevent soil from cracking (cracks allow cold to invade to greater depths, risking tender roots). Don’t water when temperatures are below 40 degrees; there’s a good chance soil moisture will freeze and damage roots. Water at mid-day so moisture will have a chance to soak into the ground before night-time freezes. (more…)

Fall Planting, Spring Color

Garden BulbsFall is the time for making sure you’ll have plenty of color in your landscape come spring. Now’s the time to divide perennials, if you haven’t done so in the last few years. If your perennials are showing smaller blossoms or dying off in the center, then dig them up, clip the crowns, and spread them around after cutting out dead and crowded roots. They like room for their roots to grow. Keep the cutting moist until you’ve put them back in the soil. Do this early; don’t wait until there’s a chance that your soil will start to freeze. If there’s a question, wait until early spring, just as the ground thaws and the plants begin to show signs of life. Either way, be sure to add some compost to the soil where they’re planted.

September is also the time to plant bulbs for spring crocus, daffodils, and tulips. Wait until the nights have become cool. The ideal soil temperature for planting bulbs is around 60 degrees. For tight, impressive displays, plant bulbs in a circle. Or just place them where ever you have room and they’ll have enough sunlight to thrive. (more…)

Garden Tool: The Camera

Taking PicturesNo doubt your gardens are at their best now, full to bursting with plants and vegetables, draped with flowers and struggling ahead of the coming frosts to seed and put on growth. Come the dead of winter, we love to recall them this way, in all their green glory. And often, as we plan our next garden, we struggle to remember the details of their opulence after the garden has been put to bed and mulch and snow cover everything. Just where did we plant that row of peas?

We’ve often promoted keeping a record — a garden journal — that records weather conditions on a semi-daily basis as well as documenting the growth and harvest success of various vegetable plants and landscape shrubs, flowers, and ground covers. Do as we say. But if you’re like us and end up doing what we do — in other words, not keeping our journal as current and as detailed as we should — there may be a simpler solution. Take pictures of this year’s garden with a camera. (more…)

Living Walls

Living WallYou already know about green roofs. But green walls? Yes! A friend interested in interior design introduced me to the notion of living walls and it didn’t take much to discover how fast the idea is catching on. Also called “vertical gardening,” the idea is being championed by a number of eco-minded builders of both large buildings and small. Businesses devoted specifically to living walls are popping up, self-contained living-wall units are available and some cities are encouraging their use.

Vertical gardens can be designed for both inside and outside walls. The benefits are many. Most obvious are aesthetic. “When I walk by, it’s calming, just a little more serene, maybe a little bohemian,” says one living wall owner in this Wall Street Journal story. “I call it Prozac on a wall,” says another. A living wall adds color, texture and interest. But that’s not all. Having a wall of plants will naturally filter the air, removing pollutants that make indoor air often more dangerous than out. Indoor living walls provide insulating value, reducing heating and cooling costs. On outside walls, a vertical garden will help protect the structure from strong sunlight as well as keep it cool. Outside living walls also shield the inside from noise. Inside living walls improve acoustics. (more…)

Compost In the Xeriscape

Steaming Compost PilesIt seems that no matter the problem we face in our gardens, the answer — or at least a part of the answer — frequently includes compost. This is certainly true in xeriscape gardening, the process of using minimal moisture effectively. Soil conditioning is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Soil that retains moisture while still allowing moisture to move through it is the goal. While there are many amendments that can be added to particular kinds of soil — clay or coarse — to help them conduct and retain moisture properly, the first and best step (because it also adds valuable microorganisms to the soil) is composting.

Gayle Weinstein’s excellent text Xericscape Handbook: A How-To Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening does a good job of explaining how water moves (and stays) in soil. Water, filtering from top to bottom, fills the spaces around each soil particle. Gravity pulls the water through the soil, but capillary action holds some of the water near the surface. When gravity draws some of the water away from plant roots through the soil and the capillary water is lost, either through evaporation or plant uptake, what’s left is called hygroscopic water, the water absorbed by the soil particles and slowly given up as capillary water between the soil particle spaces vanishes. (more…)

Xeriscape Landscaping

XeriscapingLandscaping with minimal water or only the moisture nature provides was dubbed “xeriscaping” a few decades back and the term has caught on. The word comes from combining the Greek word for “dry” and “landscaping.” Thought to have originated with the water-conscious experts at Denver Water, the city’s municipal water provider, the term has seen growing use over the last few drought-burdened seasons. The principles of xeriscape landscaping are principles dear to organic gardeners’ hearts. Soil improvement, mulching and wise planning are all part of the successful xeriscape. Proper watering is key. And the rewards include savings on water bills (or protecting your well’s ground water supply) as well as healthy, rewarding, easy-to-maintain lawns and gardens.

The practice of xeriscaping, a child of the mountain West, is spreading across the suburbs of the Midwest and South as this season’s severe drought challenges gardeners and landscapers across the country. In doing so, it’s also spreading organic gardening practices to those who never saw fit to use them before. Of course, this can only be a good thing for our environment, for our families, and the future of gardening. (more…)

Compost for Summer Lawns

Lawns and CompostThe arrival of summer reminds us that it’s not too late to nourish your lawn the healthy way with compost. As lawn-spraying services expand their grip on suburbia it’s important to remember that using organic practices to encourage grass in your yard protects your pets and family from harmful chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Spreading compost on lawns now — not too deep; you don’t want to smother the grass blades — will help it stay lush and weed-free by nourishing the soil beneath it. It will greatly increase beneficial microbial activity in your soil, benefiting your lawn even more. And it’s a good way to treat the spots in your lawn that are thin, brown and unhealthy. From Organic Lawns, Healthy Soil:

“Established lawns benefit greatly from a single yearly application of compost, even more greatly from two. Spreading compost on your lawn isn’t as easy as pushing your old chemical fertilizer spreader around. Depending on your lawn’s size, a wheel barrow and a shovel may be the best way to distribute compost around your yard, followed by a good raking (a push broom will also work) to distribute it more evenly. Though hard to find and troublesome to use effectively, a compost wheel or peat spreader can distribute compost across small yards though they can be difficult to push and need to be refilled often. (more…)

Father’s Day In the Garden

Father's DayNo matter what part of the country you live in or how far along your garden is, Father’s Day is a great time of the year to step back and enjoy your work. In many areas, greens are already being harvested, peas are beginning to pod, bush beans are in blossom, and tender baby carrots and turnips come easily from the ground. At higher altitudes and in northern climates, germination is in its early stages and young transplants — tomatoes, peppers and squashes — are taking root and standing tall. Spring flowers have faded or are long gone, summer blossoms are making their bright appearance. Everything is green, healthy and striving to grow strong.

In my former home of Bozeman, Montana — elevation 4200 feet or so — mid-June was a promising, orderly time in the garden. Parade-straight rows of beans recently broken from the ground were shedding cotyledons and hoisting first leaves. Squares of mixed greens were yielding the first baby lettuces and radishes were almost ready to pull. Pea tendrils were hooking into string trellises and the spinach made you feel healthy just looking at it. The few weeds that dared show themselves in the open rows and planted spaces, were easily seen and pulled. (more…)

Seed Bombs Yield Green Explosion

Seed BombsThe guerrilla gardening movement has blossomed as it’s moved from the underground (heh, heh) into the light of day. What is guerrilla gardening? It’s the practice of planting — you might also say beautifying or greening — neglected, vacant land, both public and private. Sometimes this involves edible plants, sometimes decorative (or both). The act, despite its obvious benefits, is frequently illegal and anyone participating should be aware of the consequences, even if they’re seldom applied. Thought the history of the movement has not been recorded — it’s a guerrilla movement, remember? — it reputedly began in New York City and other urban centers during the 1970s when much land was abandoned and public spaces were often ignored.

The major weapon in this ground attack is the seed bomb. Seed bombs contain everything needed — compost, clay and seeds — for starting plants in open ground. They can be dropped, tossed or shot from sling shots (our tests show a danger of backfire with the latter method). (more…)

Mowing Tips: Summer Lawn Care

Summer Lawn MowingJune is here. Even in high elevation and northern locations — where we’ve just set out plants and are seeing germination from the previous weeks’ seed sowing — we’ve already mowed our lawns a handful of times. In earlier zones, we’ve been mowing for months. No matter where we live, it’s time to review some lawn mowing tips and tricks.

How is summer mowing different than spring mowing? It’s less frequent. As spring moisture conditions give way to the dryness of summer, lawns grow less quickly. Higher temperatures also encourage faster moisture evaporation. The most important thing you can do at this time of year is to encourage moisture retention. The best way to do it? Set your mower to cut less grass. Generally, three-and-a-half, even four inches is a good height for the most common grasses (Bermuda, zoysia and other warm-climate grasses can be cut shorter). This is the highest setting on most mowers. Carrying a yardstick around your lawn and measuring different places — shaded and not, northern exposure and southern exposure — will give you a good idea how your grass is faring (and bring a kid-friendly pun to the common usage of the word “yardstick”). Longer grasses in your yard help shade the ground, thus lessening moisture evaporation. Shading the ground also discourages weed seed from germinating. Different types of grasses require different mowing heights. (more…)

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