A Tale of Two Lawns

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This is my front lawn right now. You know that we are completely organic and that we don’t irrigate at all–the only water this lawn has gotten all summer it got when it rained–and this is a slope, obviously (this abuts the ski slope driveway that I occasionally reference or photograph).

Obviously because we are organic there have been no pesticides used at all. Occasionally we use a corn meal gluten fertilizer in the spring. I don’t recall if we did this year but we certainly don’t do so yearly.

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Not all parts of the lawn look so fabulous but they’re all equally lush. This section, as you might be able to tell, is right next to the road. It’s got lots of clover for the bees, some plantain, and some creeping Charlie (or Jenny, depending on which common name you prefer).

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Now, not to engage in neighbor shaming but this is just one of several of my neighbor’s lawns that looks like this. What do they all have in common?

First, supplemental irrigation. This lawn gets watered twice a day, whether it needs it or not. Mushrooms are growing here, and I have seen the sprinklers going in the rain.

Next, this lawn gets cut religiously once a week, again whether it needs it or not–although with all that watering, it sure needs cutting a lot more than ours!

Finally pesticides. It seems that I regularly have to avoid the street in front of this house because of some sort of pesticide treatment. I used to think there was a “4-step” lawn care program. In my neighborhood, I think pesticides are applied every 2 weeks–& I am not kidding! And yet–this.

Whenever I lecture and say I am an organic gardener, I will get asked about weeds, to which I shrug and say that many of our so-called lawn weeds are actually nectar sources for bees and butterflies.

Then I am asked about grubs and I am genuinely mystified. It’s not that we don’t have grubs–I will find larva in our gardens when I am planting.

It’s just that we don’t have them in any quantity to do damage. I attribute that to our organic property. Birds come and feast on the grub larva before they can do any damage. They won’t eat from poisoned lawns–would you?

A Good Day’s Work

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Remember this? What I want you to notice are the weeds in the stone patio. And that’s not as bad as they got either.

You might have noticed that you could barely see my Little Joe joe pye weed because of the weeds in last Friday’s post. It’s been pretty bad around here while my arm is healing.

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Thankfully one thing got addressed this past weekend. After a couple hours of weeding, this patio, and a bed along the back of my house, along with the bed that adjoins this patio, are relatively weed free.

The Spoiler was priceless. He asked what I was going to do to get the weeds out. I made a pinching motion with my thumb and index finger. He just shook his head and said “wow. ”

In all honesty, some of the weeds were so robust that they took my whole hand–and on occasion both hands–to get out. Luckily those were easy enough to pull or I think that I might have ripped open my arm!

Now I have to tackle freeing up that poor joe pye weed!

Native versus Nativar

I won’t even wade into the definition of what a native plant is. That alone can be fairly controversial. And people who love native plants have different ideas about them.

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What do I mean? I might say that I am growing native plants and I might be referring to my echinacea. A very strict constructionist would say that coneflowers are not native to Connecticut and therefore I can’t consider them native.

To me, that’s silly–but I do know people who will only plant regionally appropriate native plants. Bless them.

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Other folks might be growing the double form of coneflowers–these photos are of a neighbor’s plants–and still consider them native.

Technically these double forms are considered “nativars.” That’s a cute form of native and cultivar, combined.

But here are things to consider when planting these types of plants.

First, what is your goal? Are you just planting ornamentally? If so, plant what you like and what will be hardy for you.

If you are planting for wildlife, consider how closely the nativar mimics the native plant. In the case of the coneflowers, the “cone” is replaced by petals. So there is no place for insects or butterflies to nectar. That’s not a good “mimic.”

On Friday I will show a different nativar that maintains the attributes of its parent.

Pest Patrol

It’s that time of the year–although in the garden, as soon as there is green, any time of the year is time for insects.

One thing I am always sure to talk about when I lecture is insect life cycle. Many insects in my part of the country can simply be ignored. This may not be possible in warmer parts of the country where ignoring an infestation just permits continuing infestations.

But in my cold climate, most insects only have the ability to have one life cycle–or one chance to breed, reproduce, chew and die.

If I had to worry about repeated infestations, I would surely have to be more proactive.

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So when I see these rose sawfly larva on my rose leaves, I know that they are going to disfigure the leaves and then they will pupate and become the tiny wasp-like insects that they turn into and fly away and that will be that.

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You can see the little larva here on the leaf. While it looks like a caterpillar, it’s not: it’s a sawfly larva. Why am I making this distinction? Because I could spray bT all day on this and it would have no effect. BT only affects caterpillars. Know your insects.

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It’s the same with the hydrangea leaftier. Most years they are so minor that I just ignore them completely. If an infestation seems to be getting out of hand, I cut them off, bag them up and they’re gone. That solves the problem for several years. The moth that this caterpillar becomes is an unremarkable tan and brown–nothing worth writing home about and certainly nothing worth poisoning a plant or the earth over!

But the point about both of these insects is that their caterpillar stages are relatively short-lived. True, the rose sawfly can cause quite a lot of leaf disfigurement in a short period of time, particularly if you can’t tolerate that look.

But I will repeat: is it worth poisoning your earth, your plants and possibly yourself over? Catch it early and the sawflies succumb nicely to being sprayed off with a hose. If you need something stronger, some insecticidal soap or a great OMRI registered product called Rose Pharm works.

But I’d never resort to anything stronger than that. And even then, because those products will affect the pollinators, I would be extremely careful with them.

Planting for Pollinators

I’ve done a lot of posting over the last week or two about what I’m planting–my herbs, both for me and for the pollinators, the annuals in the herbs garden, my indoor succulent corner (which no pollinators can get to, of course, unless they accidentally get inside the screened porch–and why would they want to?

As I was thinking back over this and thinking forward to Pollinator Week, which occurs this year June 17-23, I realized that for all my talk about native plants, I hadn’t planted any native plants.

Is this a catastrophe? No. I already have a lot of native plants in my yard. But as someone who talks a lot about native plants, I do like to add them when I can.

But one thing I didn’t do this year was add any trees, shrubs or perennials–the sorts of plants that are native plants. So that’s why no natives this season.

So should I consider my whole season a loss? I guess that depends on what you are trying to accomplish. This season, I am lucky that I can get a little gardening in. I am hoping to be able to harvest just a few tomatoes and some green beans–and to have some fresh herbs to cook with.

I’d like a few pretty flowers to look at and I have chosen those flowers with pollinators in mind. In the past, I have seen both hummingbirds and sphinx moths on impatiens so I chose those for a semi-shaded spot.

For the sunnier spots, I chose annuals in colors of blue and yellow, primarily to attract bees and butterflies. One of the containers has some lantana, which I know the butterflies in my area love.

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My earlier spring container, which was a Wordless Wednesday photo, was violets and alyssum. I have watched honeybees and smaller bees on that until I moved it to a shadier spot where I don’t get to observe it so readily.

So I am not feeling too sad about the gardening season so far. I am just hoping that the deer don’t eat the green beans, as they have in some years. Time will tell!

Re-Cycling

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Trash? Or someone else’s treasure? For a couple of years now the Spoiler has been whining that my flower pots were taking over his garage–and it is his garage. I have to park outside, under the old trees, even in snowstorms, because he has more vehicles and accoutrements than our garage will accommodate. But that isn’t the topic of this post.

So after moving the house plants and deciding that I really did have far more pots than I would ever use again, I agreed that we could put them out for the neighborhood version of free cycling. What you see is about half of what’s left.

At least I know that they will go to good homes. Presumably you don’t stop for flower pots unless you need them.

The Freedom Lawn

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We’ve grown a little too obsessed with perfection. It’s everywhere we look. If we turn on the television, all we have to do is tune in to the commercials to see that we are being sold a bill of goods: buy the perfect vehicle, or clothes dryer, or clothing, or grass seed and we too can be perfect (and don’t even get me started on the pharmaceutical commercials!)

What exactly is a “Freedom Lawn?” Well, like the name suggests, it’s a lawn that avoids inputs–so no fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation or other input beside mowing. So what happens?

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As you can well imagine, nature happens. Wildflowers–or to the uninitiated–weeds grow. And granted, not all wildflowers are welcome. For example, we have far too much plantain in our lawn. But it’s there and it’s not terribly unsightly and were we motivated it’s fairly easy to remove with a stand on step weeder–so clearly we’re not terribly motivated.

This strip is right next to the driveway as you might be able to tell. Plantain loves compacted soil. So we would be working at cross purposes by trying to remove it and grow grass in a spot where folks keep driving.

Dandelions are creeping back in, I notice. That’s one thing that doesn’t bother me at all. If you’re a “lawn person,” they drive you crazy. If you’re a pollinator person, you rejoice, because they are one of the earliest flowers for pollinators. Just deadhead them before they seed. I think I can still count them on 2 hands so they’re not a nuisance.

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And violets. I love the violets. I would have an entire lawn of violets if I could–again for my pollinators. This lovely little one is a species of viola moderate that I planted called ‘Freckles.’ The photo at the top of the post afe all wild violets.

Certain butterflies will nectar only from violets–why would anyone want to get rid of them? (Again, you can see that I am clearly NOT a lawn person!)

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Ants have naturalized these muscari for me. Maybe you can see why I am fond of ants. They also spread my violets around.

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We used to have much more clover but since my neighbor’s landscape company mistakenly poisoned my property, most of it was killed off. It’s just beginning to return, thankfully. Where the plantain has run amok used to be wild clover. Ah well.

As the season progresses, I get tiny little St. John’s wort coming up–I’ll post that at some point. The plantain blooms. And of course we get more unwelcome wildflowers like purslane and the vetches and oxalis–not welcome to us, but valuable to wildlife like the later nesting goldfinch who love the seeds.

So rejoice and enjoy a more nature looking lawn–and maybe even consider a “freedom lawn.” Your birds and pollinators will thank you.