Tag Archives: environment

GreenScaping Part 5: Practice Natural Lawn Care

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Mow higher, mow regularly and leave the clippings

Mow more frequently and mow higher when your grass is growing actively.  A good rule of thumb is to never cut more than one-third the height of the grass.  This minimizes the amount of grass clippings and helps to reduce thatch buildup.  The grass clippings will be recycled into fertilizer.

Use “natural organic” or “slow release” fertilizers

These fertilizers reduce nutrient run-off and leaching.  Use fertilizers sparingly by keeping it in your yard and off the street and pavement.

Water deeply , but infrequently, to moisten the whole root zone

Let your soil dry between watering to prevent lawn disease and save water.  Lawns only need about one inch of water a week in the summer, including rain, to stay green.

Overseeding can improve the quality of your lawn

A few great steps to consider:

  • Core aerate in the fall to improve root development and water penetration
  • Follow by overseeding thin areas of your lawn with grass seed blends recommended for your area
  • “Top Dress” by raking in a quarter- to half- inch of compost to cover the seed and improve the soil
  • Repeat these steps annually as needed to improve poor lawns

That completes the series “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”.  Read the entire article here.

GreenScaping Part 4: Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Continuous pest problems in your yard are often a sign that your yard is lacking a requirement needed to keep itself healthy.  While pesticides used for pest, weeds and bug killers can be effective means of control, correcting the underlying problem is the best remedy.  A holistic or integrated pest management approach is the most effective way to manage pests.

Start with Prevention

  • Maintain healthy soil with the use of compost and mulch
  • Select pest-resistant plants and place in their desired location (sun, shade and soil conditions, etc.)
  • Diversify your plant selection so if there is a pest infestation, your entire garden won’t be compromised.
  • Mow higher.  It’s recommended to mow as high as 2 – 3 inches.  This promotes deep root growth and thicker leaf surface, which helps to choke out weeds.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed.
  • Remove dead plants so pests have less hiding places.

Identify the Problem before Acting

It’s hard to effectively manage a problem without knowing the cause.  So identify the bug, disease, weed, etc. and determine the best action from there.  Remember many bugs are beneficial!  Monitor your area for pests but don’t spray immediately.  Nature may be able to control it for you.

Using an integrated approach may solve the problem if a weed or pest problem develops.  Try some of the following suggestions:

  • Instead of pesticide, use some “elbow grease” by pulling out dandelions with long-handled weed pullers.
  • Mulching, as stressed many times throughout this series, reduces weeds in your garden beds.
  • Crop rotation techniques help to minimize plant’s susceptibility to pests and diseases.

 

GreenScaping Part 3: Practice Smart Watering

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Water Deeply, But Infrequently

Most plants do best when their roots are allowed to dry out between watering.  Learn the signs of when its time to water.  For example, your lawn is in need of watering when footprints remain after you walk across it.  Vegetables and other annuals will show signs of wilting, but other established perennials will only need watering if they remain wilted after the evening cool-off.  Trees and shrubs, once established, won’t need watering unless for extreme cases of drought.

Make Every Drop Count

Having a healthy and beautiful lawn and plants doesn’t have to jack up your water bill.  Consider some of these water saving activities:

  • Help retain moisture and reduce evaporation in your soil by adding compost and by mulching.
  • Select low-water-use plants.  Once established, they thrive exclusively on rainfall.
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation on beds are huge water savers.  They save as much as 50 percent compared to sprinklers.
  • Incorporate a water timer.  This will assure the correct amount of water and the appropriate time of day for watering.
  • Water in the early morning.  Watering mid-day actually allows for evaporation and evening watering allows for mold and other plant diseases.
  • Water lawns separately from other plantings.  Ensure the sprinklers are properly aimed and aren’t watering the pavement.

Let the Rain Soak In

Utilize your rain.  If not used, the rain flows from roofs, pavement and compacted soil.  It eventually will cause flooding downstream, which in turn, causes erosion and pollution after picking up pollutants along the way.

  • Direct downspouts to your yard, or into rain barrels or rain gardens.
  • The use of compost and mulch can help retain this rain and help prevent erosion.
  • Use open pavers or gravel instead of pavement to allow rain to seep into the soil.

 

GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

A few days ago, I introduced the series Greenscaping and discussed step 1 of 5, which was titled, “Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil”.  Greenscaping, in essence, is a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  Today brings step 2 in this series.

Step 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Know your yard so you’ll know what plants can go where.  What spots are sunny, shady?  What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil do you have (e.g. sandy, clay)?  All of these questions will help determine what plants can go where.  Also, determine the location of plants, play areas, privacy, etc.

Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place

Based on the questions you answered above, select plants that do well in those conditions.   Choosing native plants is equally as important because they have evolved with this environment over many years.  Always envision the mature height and width of any plant before placement, especially near your house, driveway and power lines.

Choose Plants That Resist Pests

Some plants are more pest- and disease-resistant than others.  Always research your potential plants before planting.  This can save you time and money on pest control.

Give Plants a Good Start

Incorporate one to three inch layer of compost into your planting beds before planting.  Follow instructions on proper planting instructions.  A good layer of mulch atop your newly plantings, along with consistent water the first few years will help to build the deep roots that are desired.

Make Space for Wildlife

Invite birds, butterflies and other wildlife into your yard, protect streams and fish and make a more attractive yard.  Some ideas include:

  • Plant native plants.  Consider varieties with berries, fruits and flowers.
  • Plant in layers (e.g. ground cover, shrubs and trees) to mimic the forest.
  • Don’t plant invasive plant species.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for a list of invasive “noxious weeds”.
  • Use pesticides only when necessary to minimize harm to birds, beneficial insects and fish.  Always follow the label directions when using.
  • Provide a bird bath or similar water source.  Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Leave wild “buffer” areas of native plants along ravines, streams and fencelines.

Learn more about attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

GreenScaping Part 1: Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil

GreenScaping, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is landscaping practices that promote the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  A great article by the EPA titled, “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”, will be summarized here and will encompass five posts due to the length of the article.

By practicing these activities, you can:

  • Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical usage
  • Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care
  • Protect the environment by conserving water and by using chemicals responsibly so they don’t contaminate our waterways and drinking water sources.

How can this all be possible?  Working with nature in five steps, the first post of this series will focus on:

Step 1: Build and Maintain Healthy Soil

In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients used for new plant growth.  This circle of life helps to maintain the approximately 4 billion organisms found in a teaspoon of healthy soil!  These beneficial organisms help create a loose soil structure which allows for proper air and water circulation, as well as, aide in proper plant root growth.  Other good deeds include: the storing of water until plants need it and protecting plants from pests and diseases.

Soil Test

A good starting point towards achieving healthy soil is a soil test.  A soil test will give you a good baseline on determining the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil contains or possibly needs.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more details.

Compost

Compost is a critical part of healthy soil.  It helps to feed the beneficial soil life so that it can, in turn, feed and protect the plants.  It also retains nutrients and water for sandy soils and helps to loosens clay soils.  Every spring and fall is an ideal time to add between a quarter to half-inch of compost to your existing lawns or beds.

Mulch

Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings.  Mulch helps to stabilize the soil temperature, prevents weeds, and retains moisture.  Spring and fall is an ideal time to assure mulch levels are adequate (no more than 3 inches).

Slow-Release or Organic Fertilizer

If needed, look for fertilizers that contain “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients.  These will fertilize plants slowly and evenly and allow for strong root systems.  “Slow-release” types will help to reduce nutrient run-off into the ground and surface waters.

Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil!

 

Next in the series:  GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Got Frogs? Toads?

Got Frogs?  How about toads?  These amphibians are considered by many specialists to be excellent indicators of the overall environmental stability of their local ecosystem.  These sensitive creatures are usually the first casualties in an endangered ecosystem.

Their existence is important in both their predator and prey roles.  When traveling to Panama a few years ago to help with golden frog rescue efforts, Zoo Animal Care Supervisor Jeff Landry commented, “I was so surprised at how quiet the rainforest was and how much algae was growing in the ponds, this was due to the lack of frogs in the rainforest and the frog tadpoles that feed off the algae. With no frogs reproducing, there are no tadpoles, which have big consequences on the environment.”

Frogs and toads feed largely on insects, so it’s quite easy to see their importance in our environment.  The frog shown in the above picture is a Bull Frog that visited my pond last Spring.  Their diets differ from other species in the fact that they eat fish, small ducks and other frogs; making them not as desirable in your serene pond environment.  Attracting the insect loving frogs and toads can be done with a few suggestions from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

  • Leave some leaf litter under your trees, shrubs and in the garden.
  • Encourage native ground covers, grasses and wildflowers.
  • Build a burrow for their protection.   This can be as simple as a punching a hole in a flower pot, place the top opening on the ground in a shaded, moist garden area.
  • Ponds with natural vegetation and rocks are welcoming to them as well.
  • Erecting a toad light that is no taller than 3 feet and is located near the border of a garden or rocky area.  This light will attract insects at night, which is when they feed.
  • Discourage children from catching and caging of frogs and toads.
  • Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

 

 

References for this article:

http://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/conservation/year-of-frog

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12148-35095–,00.html

 

When Life Gives You Lemons

 

Well, we’ve all heard the phrase, “When life gives you lemons”, but lemons are good for more than just making lemonade.  And while I’ve actually never taken the time to make lemonade the old-fashioned way, I sure do love a good lemon shakeup at the Annual County Fair.  Here are a few suggestions on other uses for lemons around the house:

As a Freshener:

  • Place some lemon peels in the fire of your fireplace for a refreshing smell throughout your house.
  • A bowl of lemons in the any room of your house adds not only an inexpensive decoration, but a livening smell as well.
  • To remove the odors coming from onions, garlic, fish and bleach that are on your hands and cutting boards, rub with a slice of lemon.
  • Grind lemon peels into your garbage disposal to freshen it up.

As a Cleaner:

  • Clean grease and oil from your hands by rubbing with a slice of lemon.
  • Clean your oxidized copper with a paste of lemon juice and salt.  Rub on the exposed areas.  Rinse with water and dry.
  • Soak your dull-looking glass in a mixture of lemon juice and water or rub sliced lemons onto the glass surface to renew the sparkle.  Rinse with water and dry.

And if you decide to actually make lemonade, try this recipe from Sunkist®:

Sunkist® Old-Fashioned Lemonade

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup freshly squeezed Sunkist® lemon juice
  • 4 Cups water
  • ¾ Cup sugar
  • 1 Sunkist® lemon, cut into cartwheel slices
  • Extra sugar to taste (optional)
  • Ice cubes

Directions:

  • Combine Sunkist® lemon juice and ¾ cup sugar in large pitcher and stir to dissolve sugar.
  • Add water and blend well.
  • Sweeten to taste by adding extra sugar if desired.
  • Pour over ice into a tall glass and garnish with a lemon cartwheel slice

Makes 4 (12 oz.) glasses

Add 1 to 1-1/2 cups of pureed strawberries, raspberries or blueberries for a refreshing twist on this traditional recipe. 

You’ll find more recipes and tips from Sunkist® here.

Ten Ways to Green Your Home

There are countless ways to create a healthier and more environmentally friendly home.  And many of them are fairly inexpensive to accommodate into your lifestyle.  Here are 10 such ideas:

  1. Clean your air ducts and fans regularly.  This will help by eliminating the pollutants in your home that can lead to allergy problems.  Replace your furnace filter monthly for more efficiency and better air quality.
  2. Avoid products that do not list their ingredients on the back of the packaging.  Check labels for 3rd party certification by using organizations such as Green Seal  and EcoLogo
  3. If you aren’t in the habit of taking off your shoes before entering your house, now is a good time to start.  This healthy practice cuts down on the outside pollutants that are being tracked into your home.  Just the thought of all the public places my shoes travel disgusts me enough to keep this habit!
  4. If new flooring is in the near future, consider an alternate flooring option to the traditional carpet, which traps dust mites, mold and other pollutants.  Bamboo and cork flooring are being raved as great environmental alternative flooring.    There are many pros and cons to these alternative floorings though, so it is wise to see if these products fit your needs.  Some benefits of bamboo state that it is a rather quick renewable resource but currently there are few companies that are producing the flooring without harming the environment by use of pesticides, deforestation and other items that cause for degradation to the planet.  
  5. Are you in the market for a new vacuum cleaner?  Consider investing in a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter-style vacuum cleaner which captures up to 99.97% of particles. 
  6. Are mold and mildew a concern?  If so, many experts recommend keeping the humidity level in your home below 60 percent to eliminate this worry.
  7. Decorate with low-VOC and no-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints.  They release fewer toxic fumes, which are released even after the paint dries.  Typical traditional house paint has been linked to respiratory problems and even worse, some types of cancer. 
  8. Cotton is a heavily pesticide sprayed crop.  Invest in organic grown cotton products without pesticides.  Some readily available household cotton products include bedding, towels, clothes, etc.
  9. Remove your name from junk mail lists, which creates 4.5 million tons of waste annually. 
    1. The Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are allowed to include your name on lists pertaining to insurance and credit card offers. You can opt out though.
    2. The Direct Marketing Association is mail management service that allows you to opt out of mail solicitation or just focus your solicited mail based on your interests.  
  10. Clean naturally by using lemon, salt and baking soda. Here’s a few cleaning ideas for you.