When Weeding Uproots More Than Plants

Once a year, I need to weed the area around my entryway. Most of it is “fern covered” but the cracks in between the slate paving stones have to be cleaned out once.

And for some reason, there’s an area under a mugo pine where the ferns won’t grow, so that will get weedy too. I haven’t figured out a good ground cover for under there yet.


So I start with an area that looks like this.


And finish with this.

This year there was a minor complication. I was weeding out my slate cracks….


Can you tell what happened? Perhaps with this closer photo.


I wound up “weeding” up an ant colony. I had to go away for a bit to let them resettle themselves.

But it could have been worse, of course. It could have been hornets!

Dealing With the Fallout from Last Year’s Yard Poisoning

I know that I have a lot of new readers this spring so you all may not have been following me last summer when I told the tale of my neighbor’s lawn care company accidentally  “fertilizing” my lawn and spraying weed killer on my vegetables,  perennials and shrubs.

When the very nice and very apologetic management came out, I was assured that there would be no residual effects this spring.  I was told that whatever was sprayed was not like a glysophate, so it shouldn’t have a killing effect.

Really. I find it interesting (and frankly heartbreaking) that none of our clover has come back in the lawn. How long is this soil going to remain contaminated by whatever they put down?


We have only one small area of violets. The area around that yellow magnolia used to be covered in blue.

And my vegetable garden? The raised bed right under the yellow magnolia? All the perennial herbs are dead. Some had been in that bed for almost a decade.  It wasn’t that bad a winter. So clearly I don’t dare use it for vegetables this year. I will grow flowers and hope that I don’t poison the pollinators.

Our yard had been organic for literally decades. I have no idea how long it’s going to take the “good” soil bacteria, organisms and other living things to recover.

This is just an unbelievable experience.

Let’s Leave The Ants Be

On Monday I had a photo of muscari, or grape hyacinths. I said that I would talk more about those in a different post. This is that post.

It’s not Pollinator Week yet–that’s June 18-24 this year. But nevertheless, I always try to talk about one of the unheralded pollinators of the garden, the ants, this time of year, because in my part of the world this is when they are making themselves known and so this is when most folks are reaching for sprays, traps–or worse.

Please: if the ants are just harmlessly going about their business somewhere safely away from your home, please just let them be. Ants serve valuable purposes in our ecosystem.

If they are in your house–fine. Do what you must. But before your break out the heavy duty poisons, try discouraging them by washing away their trails with a soapy cloth. It doesn’t always work, but it you get it early enough, it will.

Ants are actually good for your ecosystem. If you have heavy soil, they will help break that up.

But more important, they pollinate. They pollinate lots of early spring wildflowers. Here in the northeast, many of our spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trillium, and others with a special sort of structure called an eliaosome are pollinated this way.

I also find that my muscari are, if not specifically “pollinated” by ants, certainly propagated by them. I have never planted any in my lawn–and yet, my lawn is full of them. At first, I thought chipmunks or squirrels must have done it–and then I realized that it was the ants.


It’s not a question of the muscari naturalizing–these plants are too far apart and much too widely spaced to have done that. And they are far too random for the seed to have just scattered (although I suppose anything is possible). Rather they appear in small clumps as if they were brought there somehow–which is why I originally blamed the chipmunks.

It’s a nice effect–and since I am the only one in my neighborhood to have it (and the only gardener crazy enough to let the ants be, no doubt), I suspect this is what’s happened.

So with our bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators in such trouble, why not give your ants a chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.



Sustainable Gardening

It’s easy to walk into a big box store–or even some garden centers–and get very discouraged by the bewildering array of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. All you need to do is approach these aisles and you can smell these products. And generally, they are not good smells.

With all of that going on, then, it’s hard to remember that we’ve come a really long way since that first Earth Day over 50 years ago! More than ever before, people are indicating an interest in growing organically and growing their own food organically.

And more than ever before, people are listening when you tell them, please don’t spray this–or please don’t spray now–because you will endanger our pollinators. Those sorts of things really are resonating with a majority of people in a way that they might not have 10 or 20 years ago.

In fact, I have even had people tell me that the word “sustainable” is too out of date. I am not sure what the current word or term or phrase might be. I kind of like “sustainable.” To me, it indicates something that’s going to be around awhile. Isn’t that what we’re aiming for?

The other thing that’s almost mainstream these days is native plants. Even the box stores are carrying them. They may not have big signs screaming “Get Your Native Plants Here!,” but they will have some tough, hardy natives that grow well in almost every region available.

Part of this has to do with planting for pollinators. Part of this has to do with planting for unpredictable weather–natives seem to cope with that much better than other plants (once they are established, of course). And part of this has to do with the fact that natives are just nice plants to grow–many of them bloom for a long time, or produce berries or have lovely fall color–all attributes of other ornamentals that might be harder to grow or fussier in other ways.

Back on that first Earth Day, almost no one was growing natives–or if they were, their neighbors were looking upon them with suspicion as “long haired hippies”, no doubt.

And those first Earth Day chemicals? Names too terrible to mention. So we really have come a long way.

Recycling and “Other” Life Changing Events

On Monday, I talked about the many ways my life had changed since that first Earth Day in the 70s or even since I first “married” my house and my husband 22 years ago. These things are all changes for the better and they are so automatic that for the most part I don’t even think about them–which makes them far easier to incorporate into daily or weekly routines.

What sorts of things am I talking about? How about lighting for a start. Does anyone use incandescent bulbs anymore? Or how about CFLs? For the most part, our home is all LEDs and I am so grateful we’ve made the switch both from an energy efficiency standpoint, but also as someone who gets dreadful migraine headaches. The LEDs are much easier on the eyes. The CFLs have an almost imperceptible flicker–but if you get migraines and are sensitive to light, you know what I am referring to.

Then there are the reusable totes. I hope most folks are using those by now. They save so much plastic. I did recycle my plastic bags prior to using these–but if I never have to take a plastic bag, it so much the better. I just place them back in the car when I am finished and they’re ready to go for the next time (the question of laundering–or wiping the insides of the plastic-y ones, is best saved for a different discussion).

And then there is recycling. Of course, the optimal goal is to have as little trash or recycling as possible. I am in awe of those families whose yearly trash fills a shoebox. I am not there–or anywhere close–yet. Still, our trash goes out just once a month (in winter months–in summer we roll the bin down more frequently just so it doesn’t become more fragrant).

We do have more recycling than trash. Our bin is full every two weeks without fail. I like to think that that is because we make a concerted effort to recycle every single thing we can–and that’s partly it. The other part is that we still get too many paper newspapers (I can’t convince The Spoiler to go digital) and too much junk mail, sadly.

One Monday, I will talk about the many ways the garden is improved from that original Earth Day in the 70s!


How Has Your Life Changed….

Happy Belated Earth Day!

This post changed a lot from when I originally thought about it. Originally, I was thinking about it the night of April 15, when sleet and snow were pinging at my window and I was thinking “where’s my global warming?!”

And as I thought about that, I thought, wait a second. It’s not even funny to joke about that. And I started to think about all the ways my life has changed since the original Earth Day back when I was in elementary school–or even back when I first “married” my house and husband 22 years ago.


So when I woke up to this nasty mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain on April 16, I wasn’t quite as depressed as I should have been. Because, of course, April has all these wonderful ecological holidays: Earth Day, which this year was yesterday, Sunday April 22, and Arbor  Day, which in my state, is celebrated on the last Friday in April, so April 27.

So it’s absolutely wrong to think about asking for “global warming,” particularly in a month that celebrates the earth in such wonderful ways!

Indeed, later that same day, we wound up with downpours of rain–something that is very indicative of climate change–so I guess you need to be careful what you even think about asking for!

On Friday –Arbor Day– will get back to that theme of “life changing.” I will bet you haven’t thought about how many ways your life has changed for the better–and to help the Earth!

Don’t Be Too Quick To Clean Up In Spring

It’s mid-March. Next week is astronomical spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. If you’re lucky, you have some signs of spring coming up in your yard or somewhere nearby.

I must encourage you, though, please don’t be too quick to tidy up in the yard. We gardeners are a manic bunch, aren’t we, hating to see even a leaf out of place? What is it we think might happen?

Please leave some of the leaf litter in place until some real warmth takes place and holds awhile.

This would be the same for some plant stems–if you left any in the garden in the fall.

Why am I asking you to leave your garden messy? Simple. There are “things” living in the leaves and the plant stems that need time to emerge and find new homes. If you clean up leaf litter too early,  you might be destroying overwintering butterfly larva, or worse yet, the lovely mourning cloak butterflies that are sunning themselves there.

If you cut down and discard hollow plant stems, you might be discarding all sorts of beneficial bugs, including valuable native bees.

When we talk about all the “good bugs” in the garden, these are the ones that you want. If you’re not seeing them, ask yourself if your clean-up practices might be accidentally contributing to their demise. You surely wouldn’t want that.

On a warm spring day, go outside and take a walk instead. That will help you get over the urge to tidy too soon–and you won’t feel too lazy!