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It’s All About the Grass

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I knew we could make this an “All Spoiler week” if we tried.

Last week–just exactly a week ago–we had a soil scientist from the lawn care company that mistakenly trespassed on our property, poisoned my  vegetable garden and “treated” some of my perennial and shrubs with broad leaf weed killer come out, allegedly  to take “soil samples and tissue cultures” from the affected plants and areas.

Perhaps they got nervous when I started saying words to them like “trespass” and “irreplaceable” plants. Nevertheless, I permitted them to come.

When I told the Spoiler they were coming, he said, “Oh good. There are some brown areas in the grass I want them to look at too.”

“Some brown areas in the grass.” Long time readers of this blog know that we don’t irrigate our lawn. It was August 25 when they came–a very dry August, I might add.

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Nevertheless, it is undeniable that they did spray a lot of this broad-leaf weed killer all over the lawn. So I simply said, “that’s fine, honey. You just be here so you can show them where.”

I have to keep the Spoiler happy, after all.

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What A Difference A Year Makes!

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See these mushrooms? They’re all over in my lawn. They’re all over in everyone’s lawns!

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Here are some more. You know what this means. It means it’s been raining. And this is a wonderful thing. For the last two and a half years, it wasn’t raining–or snowing much–or even sleeting or hailing.

For the last 2 1/2 years, our lawns were like tinder, our trees lost their leaves, our gardens dried out, I lost many, many established perennials and shrubs, our evergreens died, or got diseased so that we had to remove them–it’s been a really tough time here in the Northeast and it’s not over yet.

And while we haven’t had a plague of locusts, we have had a plague of gypsy moths that threaten to kill many of our large deciduous trees.

You may think that I am harping on the drought and its after effects. But many, many folks come to New England for the fall foliage. And in many places. our landscape is going to be forever changed by these years of drought.

The backdrop of evergreens that set off our blazing fall colors is slowly being killed by disease caused by drought.

The oaks and maples that cause those beautiful colors are being ravaged by the gypsy moths. Fall tourism may never be the same in places, particularly in parts of Massachusetts. It will remain to be seen.

Have any of you heard about any of this in the news? I doubt it.

And I doubt my neighbors have heard–or seen–that it’s raining. On days when it’s raining–even on days when we get an inch or more of rain–they run their lawn sprinklers. One neighbor runs his twice a day, and the second time is at 1:30 in the afternoon! Talk about a colossal waste of water!

But that’s why I put the pictures of the mushrooms up. You know that I don’t irrigate my lawn so you can tell how much rain we’ve had just by the presence of mushrooms all over my yard.

Some of my neighbors have larger mushrooms than I do but somehow it didn’t seem wise to go around photographing them, particularly while I am walking the dog. That could just lead to catastrophe, in more ways than one. So you’ll have to take my word that the mushrooms are larger on other properties (which I guess is something like the grass being greener….)

In any event, with all these mushrooms around, it seems to me that some of these irrigation systems could be given a rest. You know, encourage the grass to develop deep roots for the next drought. But why be forward thinking, I guess?

Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!

Our Latest Eco-Friendly Mower

20160525_164847This is the Spoiler’s newest toy. We’ve been mowing with battery operated mowers for decades–no mean feat when your yard is just about an acre and probably half of that is devoted to grass.  Our neighbors to the north and south use lawn tractors, the one behind us uses a stand on commercial mower, and the one in front of us has gone to using a lawn service–so more tractors and gas blowers.

As I am fond of saying, our neighborhood sounds like an industrial zone from spring until December, when the last of the leaf blowers get put away. There’s no such thing as peace and quiet. The commercial guys are there every day of the week from 7 am until dusk and on the weekends, the homeowners start up. Many of them don’t even have the decency to stop at dusk.

So the only little place where there’s less noise–I won’t say no noise because I am startled still by how much noise these things still make–is on our property. We use nothing powered by gas except a commercial grade leaf blower on occasion in the fall to move leaves from the back to the curb (when you have a heavily wooded property, you can’t use all the leaves you create, no matter how hard you try) and of course our snow blower with the tractor treads for our ski slope of a driveway.

But the lawn mower, hedge trimmer and “weed whacker,” as well as the light use leaf blower for most jobs are all battery powered.

The new lawn mower is a Black and Decker. It’s probably our fourth. We trade in the old ones so the batteries get properly recycled. This one is 40 volts. All the others were 24 volts. That means it will run longer so that ideally the Spoiler will only need two charges to cut the grass instead of three.

It also comes with two batteries so that when he runs through the first one he can pop in the second and keep on mowing. Now knowing that it took at least three charges from the old lawn mower to get through our lawn, we’ll see how well this works. But because this mower is more powerful, perhaps it will have a longer running time and he’ll be able to get the lawn done with just the two batteries.

He was so excited when he got the mower that he called me out to try it. I was still in my work clothes. He made me push it, then made me push it with one hand. I told him that it was very nice but since I never mowed much with the other one, I really didn’t know what to say.

“But you can push it with one hand,” he said.

“Oh, I see,” I replied. “It’s so light, I can mow in my work clothes. Hold on, I’ll go put on my pearls and then you can get a photo.”

So that was part of the attraction too–that the new mower is lighter than the old. As for me mowing–in my pearls or not–that’s not happening any time soon. I have too much work elsewhere in the yard!

Wordless Wednesday–Photos from the Freedom Lawn

A little over 2 weeks ago I talked about my “Freedom Lawn.” That post had no photos because we were still having snow!

It has since warmed up enough for things to green up and start blooming so I thought I would post lots of photos so folks could see what I meant by this concept–and either be horrified or not.

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The first thing we do is let the violets grow and bloom. Violets are an important early nectar source for early butterflies and moths. You can see two different types here alone–the deep purple and an “introduced one that has self-sown from my garden, viola odorata, ‘Freckles.’

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This is a close-up of ‘Freckles.’

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This is probably the source of one our biggest battles between the Spoiler and me. I love the moss and he doesn’t. We have a lot of it naturally. He doesn’t understand how sustainable it is, and that where ever it grows, he doesn’t have to mow, water or feed. What’s not to like? This is along one of the beds.20160418_164949

We also have quite a bit of moss naturally in the lawn. People don’t necessarily understand that moss doesn’t need shade to grow. This is on a sunny slope among tree roots. Because our soil pH is so low (it’s in the 3s!) moss naturally loves our soil. You can see all the stoniness too that comes from being on rock ledge.

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Here’s a better view of the moss, tree roots and some other “freedom lawn” inhabitants in that same area. There’s chickweed, some dandelions (which will be weeded out) some grass and some moss. The chickweed will stay. Although it’s very weedy and seedy, birds love the seeds.

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This is an area on the top of that slope where it is slightly shadier so there is more grass–and greener moss.

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Finally, there are grape hyacinths (muscari) that the ants have planted for me all over the slope of this part of the “freedom lawn. ” (More about ants as pollinators during Pollinator Week.)

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I am always careful to cut all the flowers before our first mowing. This was our “harvest this year. Usually I get 4 small vases full. This year it was five. I think perhaps because the mowing was delayed due to the cooler weather, the flowers had a longer time to grow. It was a nice bonus!

So that’s the “Freedom Lawn.” The look is not for everyone. But I am fortunate–several of our neighbors have violet patches as well so they don’t get too upset about ours. We don’t live in a place where perfection is demanded–at least not too often!

Feeling Patriotic? Grow A Freedom Lawn This Year!

I would love to say that I came up with this concept but I did not. It’s not even a new concept. It’s been around for a decade or more as I wrote about in a post that you can read here.

In fact, the concept is even more relevant now with all of the drought going on in various parts of the country. Look what has happened regarding drought in the last ten years or so–we’ve had sort of a rolling drought that persisted for years, moving from the south, through the southwest and then into California.

And let’s not even talk about the persistent wildfires that get bigger and burn hotter each year out west.

With all that going on, it’s downright unpatriotic–to me–to attempt to plant a perfect carpet of grass. (But remember, if we all liked the same thing, what a boring world we would have. I know my male readers are just cringing right now).

So how do I define a “freedom lawn?” At my house, in my clay soil, even in a drought, we are fortunate enough to remain a lot wetter than most, so what I try to do is to persuade the Spoiler to allow most of what wants to grow there naturally to remain.

Not only do we garden in wet, heavy clay, but we garden on a slope. So this is really a tough climate for grass.  Our pH is really low so the soil is very acidic–again not ideal for grass–but perfect for moss! So in a lot of spots, I have convinced the Spoiler to just leave the moss. And it’s working!

So there’s no mowing and very few weeds that invade. Anything that comes up, I hand pull–but in that environment, very little invades. Some plantain might occasionally come up. But we do get lots of little ferns. Very pretty.

On the flat, sunny slopes, we have violets–perfect nectar spots for the bees and butterflies. This is a tough on to balance because the violets can over-run a lawn. In our clay, they do not seem to get out of control.

Occasional dandelions will also come up. I will let them flower, but we weed them out before they seed since they are perennial. The flowers are great for early tiny bees.

And clover, which also occurs naturally if you let it, is a wonderful asset to the lawn. Not only does it feed bees and butterflies but it helps fix the nitrogen in the soil because it is in the legume family. Prior to all the 4-Step programs, clover was actually sold in grass seed mixes for just this purpose. Once the commercial fertilizer programs came along, they couldn’t figure out not to kill it along with the other “broad leaf weeds” so they just chose to list it as a weed.

And if that isn’t a sad tale, I’m not sure, what is!

The Quest for Garden Perfection

On this April Fool’s Day, let’s not be Gardening Fools, shall we?

Where I garden, in central Connecticut, it’s still pretty cold. In fact, over the weekend and into early next week, they’re predicting snow in some amounts from flurries to a few inches perhaps. So it’s really too early to do much “gardening.”

But that hasn’t stopped my neighbors (who as you know by now, I like to use as regular examples of Gardening Fools).

Last Sunday, my next door neighbor was mowing his lawn–on Easter–on his tractor.  I can still see the mud ruts he left because our heavy clay soil is far too wet to be thinking about doing anything in, never mind compacting with a tractor! And he wonders why his lawn is a mass of weeds, does he? Scraping it at inappropriate times of the year has a funny way of leading to bad consequences. Try not to follow his behavior.

He will then douse that same lawn in so many chemicals that he has actually killed some of my plants with the drift. Please don’t be that type of Gardening Fool, okay? If you practice good garden practices to begin with, you can vastly eliminate the need to kill your abutting neighbor’s plants!

Finally, a little further down the block, another neighbor is already out with the crabgrass preventer. I only happened to notice it by pellets he left lying on the pavement (and the chemical smell as I walked by with the dog).

Please, if you are going to be a home applicator, try to not coat the street in front of your home with noxious chemical fertilizers. It’s bad enough that those of us that walk dogs have to dodge and weave all season long to try to avoid the Chem-lawn (excuse me, Tru-Green) coated lawns that we are warned against.

But to have to avoid pellets in the street–which are then washed into the storm drains and therefore our waterways–is really asking too much of us. Don’t be this type of Gardening Fool! Keep your fertilizers–of whatever type–on your lawns and in your beds, please.

On Monday I’ll talk about what I’d love to see in lawns–the beloved Freedom Lawn. In this election year, what could be more patriotic?