This is a great time of year to take care of your soil so that your garden will flourish in the spring.
I am also able to weed the beds of the new native plant garden now more easily because there are only occasional bees. Up until this week the Heuchera Autumn Bride and the Liatrus were filled with very happy bees. Now it is in the high thirties over night.
First, if you haven’t done it yet, think about aerating your turf. This allows the roots to get oxygen and to spread out. It also provides air to the beneficial microorganisms in the soil that keep your grass healthy. Autumn is the time to do this because in the spring you uncover weed seeds when they are ready to germinate. Now your turf has the upper hand and root growth is strong. If your grass is thick and healthy you will have fewer problems with weeds. You can still overseed, too, to encourage dense turf and outcompete weeds.
Strong soil is the key to plants doing well without chemicals.
This is a great time of year to take care of your soil so that your garden will flourish in the spring.
Now is a good time to make lists of plants that you love.
My first draft of a list included non-native plants so that I could look for natives with similar structure and color. I also considered things I didn’t the first time we planned gardens at our home, like where the snow falls from the eaves in a big storm is not a good place for a structural plant or evergreen that will get crushed (like boxwood).
Great sources of lists of native plants with pictures and descriptions of the conditions which they need to grow are The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (of which we are an affiliate, and the Missouri Botanical Garden.
It is also a great time to visit friend’s gardens and public gardens to see fall foliage. My Asters, Autumn Bride, and Liatrus are beautiful now.
This is a picture of Asters in my garden with a planted lady butterfly this morning.
If you are planning to plant in the spring now is the time to map where the sun is, because the leaves are about to fall!
This is one of the first things we did in planning our new native garden. If you put plants that like sun in sunny areas and ones that like shade in shady areas, you are giving them the best chance to thrive – without pesticides.
So start early in the morning on a sunny day. Take a simple map of your property, or at least the area you are planning to plant in,and make 10 copies. Go outside each hour and draw lines demarcating where the shade is. Yes, the angle of the sun is different in the spring, summer, and early fall. But it gives you a good idea and a concrete record to help with your planning.
Think about this when you are deciding where to plant trees, too.
We have a woods on the east side of our property, that casts a big shadow early in the morning. Our barn is placed so that it has this shade on the east and more trees shading it on the south. When it is 90 degrees in the summer our tack room is often 65 degrees. None of the trees are up close to the barn, so there is plenty of air circulation, too. In the winter these deciduous trees drop there leaves and the barn is in full sun.
We provide the answer to why it is important to care for your yard without chemicals, and information on how to do that. We also provide the tools to communicate the why to friends and neighbors in your community who share your watershed.
We need you to use these tools to spread the word in your community. Together we can clean up our drinking water and give our families healthier lives.
It is fall, so this is the time to take care of your lawn so that it will look great in the spring. Natural lawn care is all about soil culture!
Use our organic lawn care brochure to learn more and spread the word in your community. Download it here.
Use our mailbox card to start a conversation with your neighbor so they will join you in caring for your lawn to protect your water. Download it here.
And take the Pledge! It’s not a pledge for money, it is a way to quantitate support in your community for Healthy Yards!
It’s good for this song sparrow, and it is good for our children!
If you don’t use pesticides good bugs will thrive and eat the bad bugs! This praying mantis is taking care of my Earthkind Belinda rose. Earthkind roses are strong enough to cultivate with good soil culture and no synthetic pesticides.Look for the Earthkind designation when you are choosing roses for this coming spring.
To praying mantises all bugs are good bugs – for their dinner. Mantises are beneficial, but eat bees and other beneficial insects as well as aphids, mosquitoes, flies, and beetles. Overall they are a big plus. They mate in the fall and lay egg cases that overwinter, with baby mantises hatching in the spring.
Native plants in our gardens are starting to make a difference for Monarch butterflies. What we do in our gardens makes a difference!
Monarch on liatrus_9_17I am seeing fewer and fewer Monarch butterflies in my native garden now that fall is coming. This is good, because they should be headed down to Mexico where they winter. But with the warm weather a few are lingering. They are no longer interested in the milkweed which has gone to seed. Instead they are all over the liatrus.
These amazing butterflies migrate each year from Canada to Mexico. Their population is measured by the number of acres of forest they cover in Mexico during the winter. They covered 45 acres of forest at their peak 20 years ago, but were down to only about three acres just a couple of years about. That is a 93 percent decline. Last year they increased to ten acres as gardeners, farmers, and communities added milkweed.
What we do is helping, and hopefully that will galvanize gardeners to work harder to support our native birds and insects that are struggling from climate change and development by planting native plants and not using pesticides.
Our first step was to choose a landscape architect. I wanted to work with someone whose gardens moved me and who had lots of experience in planning native gardens. I chose Sheila Brady, a principal at Oehme Van Sweden and a leader in sustainable design. Her work includes the Native Garden and the Azalea Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. At the corporate headquarters of United Therapeutics she designed a central plaza and three floors of green roofs, and she designed the Lakeside Gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Fortunately Sheila also loves to do residential work and was willing to work with us.
Since our budget was limited, we decided to concentrate initially on one area. Together my husband and I and Sheila decided that the entrance to the property and the front of the house was a good place to begin. Blair was delighted, and hoping that implementing the plan would require him to purchase new machinery, his favorite part of gardening.
This picture is the Green Velvet boxwood on either side of the front walk soon after I planted them. They grew to 3 feet high over the years.
WANT A HEALTHY, BEAUTIFUL YARD? USE LOTS OF NATIVE PLANTS. FOLLOW OUR NATIVE PLANT PROJECT TO GET IDEAS FOR YOUR GARDEN
While something as big as the Mississippi River or other rivers or waterways near our homes seems beyond the scope of our ability to make an impact, the opposite is true. Non point source pollution is the result of many small contributions to a large pollution problem. Together what we do in our yards matters tremendously. Most of the land in the US is residential, homes and small parks, schools, and churches, where the neighborhoods decide how the soil and gardens are cared for. Each year Americans use over 80 million pounds of pesticides on our yards and gardens that wash into our drinking water, and we don’t need to.
Gardening to protect water quality means gardening without pesticides and using lots of native plants is the best way to do this.
I am a mom and a doctor, so protecting water quality is really important to me. I am a lifelong gardener who had an organic farm for fifteen years on the banks of a trout river. I care about gardens, and I know many practical ways to avoid pest problems or deal with these problems organically. Speaking to groups around the country I have found the biggest obstacle to adopting pesticide free care is that people are concerned that their yards will not look good without chemicals. Making changes to our garden plans and deciding how to add native plants was daunting to me. Along with many of my friends and fellow gardeners I had added some milkweed and some native plants, but needed help with an overall plan to make a big impact.
So I got help from an amazing landscape architect. Follow along to see how we are starting to change our landscape to more and more native plants, and yet making it more beautiful than it was before when it was comprised largely of traditional non-native plants.
We are doing this on a budget, so it is a phased plan. Moreover, while I now have some help in the garden, my husband and I do most of the yard work on our property so it has to be manageable and enjoyable to maintain. I am a member of Bedford Garden Club, so I am sharing the knowledge I have gotten with my friends and neighbors as I go and benefiting from their experience, too.
Join us on this garden adventure.
This is a great time to start planning for Spring planting!
Above is an early “before” picture showing some of our foundation plants (the Kousa dogwood, rhododendron, scotch broom, and boxwood, are all visible). We built our home over 20 years ago. We were fortunate to have a spectacular architect who worked for a renown firm known for their landscape architecture.
The entrance to the house was flanked by two large boxwoods and the path was flanked by a hedge of smaller boxwoods. The two large Buxus Sempervirens had grown to be taller than I am, full and beautiful. However, in heavy snow falls they suffered. We just did not have the patience to cover them in burlap every winter, and even the few times we did they took hits with heavy snow falling off the steeply pitched roof. And running outside to clean off all of the many boxwood that I had planted on the property got old quickly. We used Green Velvet boxwood, a cultivar that only grows to 3′ by 3′ to flank the path. In addition to snow damage rabbits were very fond of them, and they grew raggedy over time. Boxwood leaf miners occasionally attacked, too. Buxus Sempervirens is native to Southern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Buxus Green Velvet is from Europe, Asia, Africa and Central America. We also had a hedge of Buxus Sempervirens on the side of the driveway with an opening to walk or drive through.
On either side of the front door were groupings of Chionoides Rhododendron. A traditional and beautiful foundation plant, they have dark green leaves and beautiful white flowers with yellow centers. These are not native so they do not support native insects and birds. Our biggest problem was that in very heavy snow storms the snow falling off the roof would pummel them. Also, while our yard was fenced, if deer managed to get in they would head straight for these plants. We also had a Scotch Broome, but rabbits continually feasted on that so I gave up on it. We had Miss Kim lilacs which are just beautiful, but not native. Blue Girl Holly got quickly decimated during deer incursions and did not recover. We had a Rose of Sharon that was beautiful (also white with a yellow center), and though it was not a native the bees loved it and it grew like a weed. In fact it was so vigorous I could not keep it pruned and we needed to remove it. In front of the library we had Delaware Valley White Azaleas. They were not native, and struggled with cold winters in our zone 5. We initially also had four Cornus Kousa trees, one at each corner of the auto court. We got rid of those after one of our labradors ate the Kousa fruit. He loved it, and would jump in the air to get more from higher branches. But it upset his stomach and I would have to walk him again and again at night.
As you can see, I was ready for a change!
The Great Healthy Yard Project will concentrate on watersheds, and the first is the Mississippi River Watershed
With many of our environmental protections, including those that protect our water quality, in jeopardy it is important for the Great Healthy Yard Project to make an impact NOW. With this in mind we will concentrate on watersheds, starting with a focus on the Mississippi River Watershed.
The Great Healthy Yard Project is important because national stream tests done in 2013 showed that our nation’s waterways are contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers. Small amounts of these chemicals can disrupt our hormonal system, and they act cumulatively. The Great Healthy Yard Project supplies the knowledge and tools we need to begin to fix this problem now by starting in our backyards and working together.
Concentrating on the Mississippi River Watershed is important because it is the largest watershed in the United States. 41 percent of the land in the US eventually drains into the Mississippi River, and 27 percent of the United States population lives on land that drains into the Mississippi. Millions of people get drinking water from the river, and how people care for it upstream matters tremendously. The river empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and pollutants that travel with it are also harming the Gulf, contributing to algae overgrowth and dead zones. Parts of 27 states are in the Mississippi River basin, and 70 towns and cities get their drinking water from it.
The ten states along the river are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Also, it courses through many conservative areas. Republicans were in the past the party of conservation. Now with this administration many environmental protections are being walked back. But we all want clean water, and if people understand how chemicals get into their drinking water and what they do to our bodies when they are there, they will not only behave more sensibly in their own yards, but push representatives from both parties to back environmental regulations that protect our water quality and our families health.
Catastrophic flooding in Houston was the result of an incomprehensible 50 inches of rain that fell in a short period of time. However, the magnitude of the flooding and level of destruction was magnified by the fact that Houston is one of only three major cities that does not have zoning laws that require storm water management.
Most other areas require no increase in stormwater runoff when they approve a building or development. Houston does not protect its wetlands, it allows them to be developed. Wetlands act like sponges to sop up water during a storm. Three quarters of the Prairie has also been developed and can no longer absorb water.
So even before Harvey Houston was experiencing serious flooding. A Texas A&M researcher said “more people die here from floods than anywhere else….and more per capita is lost here.”
WHAT CAN WE DO IN OUR COMMUNITIES?
We can maintain our yards and gardens in ways that capture storm water and return it to underground aquifers. This helps replete the aquifer, helps purify the water, and helps prevent pollutants from washing into our streams, lakes, and rivers.
This is a way we can all start now with a little step to improve our water quality and also help prevent our communities from flooding.
The next step is convincing friends and neighbors to do the same, and the third step is convincing our representatives that everyone from both parties wants clean water and wants the flood risk to their communities minimized.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (The Great Healthy Yard Project is an affiliate) has developed a Sustainable Sites certification similar to LEED certification for sustainable building with the American Botanic Garden and The American Society of Landscape Architects that quantifies landscape sustainability.they also have Sites for Homeowners.
SOME EASY STEPS ARE:
1. Capture water running off driveways, roofs, and terraces so that it is absorbed. In areas of your yard with lots of runoff consider making a rain garden. This is simply a depression that captures the water and is planted with plants that like wet feet and will absorb it. The plants have to be suited to the soil, climate, and the amount of sun.
2. Replace paved areas with gardens or at least pervious surface like gravel where possible so that water can be absorbed.
3. Use lots of native plants that are well acclimated to your climate and soil. Once established they often require little care and will be resilient and able to absorb water. They also absorb excess nutrients that would pollute the waterways.
4. Plant trees. Trees do a phenomenal job absorbing water and excess nutrients.
5. Consider rain barrels to absorb water that comes off your roof so you can use it in your garden when you need it.
6. Don’t mow to the edge of ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. Help secure the banks and prevent erosion with long grasses or shrubs. These also add habitat for birds and other wildlife, and they absorb large amounts of water that would otherwise run off into the waterway.