Spur Your Green Thumb at UConn Garden Conference

Looking for some gardening impetus or to expand your gardening knowledge? You’ll get both at the 2012 Garden Conference at the University of Connecticut on March 16.

I’ve heard two of the speakers and, without reservation, recommend hearing them at least once.

Kerry Ann Mendez starts the day talking about change as an opportunity to create a more beautiful garden. I heard a different presentation by Kerry Ann at the Connecticut Horticultural Society conference in February. To describe her as lively is an understatement and I suspect her presentation will include fantastic photos of the beauty she has created on her own plot of land.

Doug Tallamy is one of the native plant gurus. He exudes valuable information about native trees and plants and their role in home environments. You will come away with new respect for many of the native shrubs and trees you might take for granted. Read my post on his book, Bringing Nature Home.

The afternoon topics cover growing an edible landscape by Charlie Nardozzi, herbs as ornamentals by Jo Ann Gardner, and old and new annuals by Mitch Rand. You might get ideas like these: chives as a border or interplanted in perennial beds, and planting lettuce among annuals and perennials. The lettuce gives early color, fills in space, and is harvested before the annuals grow to full size.

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It’s a full day of gardening talk and thoughts of all the beautiful things that come from growing plants, shrubs and trees. Plus, between presentations you can peruse a sizeable collection of gardening-related books – you’re sure to find at least one must-have – and obtain information about local gardening and farming groups.

Register and learn more here: 2012 Garden Conference.

It’s a one stop educational experience bound to inspire you to …

Garden thoughtfully,

Joene

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

A Sustainable Lawn … You Can Grow That

Just as sure as blades of green grass are beginning to show in the lawn outside my office window, thoughts of lawns will start creeping into Connecticut home owners’ heads. This spring I want Connecticut lawn owners … no, I want lawn owners across the U.S. to repeat this phrase: You can grow that sustainable lawn.

We are told by a certain fertilizer and chemical company that lawns need 4-steps. But they don’t, as Tom Christopher noted during his Sustainable Lawns presentation at the February 2012 meeting of the Connecticut Horticultural Society. Because so many land owners buy into the onslaught of 4-step advertising, lawns are typically spread with chemical fertilizers and covered with pesticides. And, as Christopher noted, lawn is the largest irrigated crop in the U.S. Most of the seven billion – yes that’s billion with a ‘b’ -  gallons of irrigation water used each day goes to lawns and a good portion of these water-soluble chemicals end up in waterways where they adversely effect water quality and aquatic creatures.

Lawn owners can change these facts, one lawn at a time.

Stopping the use of unnecessary water-soluble chemical and pesticide treatments is one way. Converting some of your lawn into other types of plantings is another. But for homeowners wanting to keep some or all of their lawn while minimizing the environmental, time, and financial cost of lawn care, choosing the right lawn seed for the climate and soils is the way to go.

In Connecticut, Christopher said, this means planting fine fescues (blends of hard fescue, creeping red fescue and other fescue cultivars) which

  • are insect-resistant,
  • grow well in sun and tolerate shade,
  • have deep root systems that are less vulnerable to drought than shallow-rooted grasses,
  • once established, will tolerate foot traffic,
  • are slow growing, which means less mowing,
  • grow in nutrient poor soils, and only need supplemental fertilization in very poor soils,
  • are allelopathic – they emit compounds that depress the growth of competing plants – think weeds.

Fine fescue turf is not adapted to heavy traffic, such as a soccer or baseball field, but Christopher says it is fine for home landscapes.

Here’s a close up look at a fescue blend I started growing in pots on a window sill just a couple of weeks ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I wanted a close-up look at how this Eco-Lawn fescue blend grows, looks and feels. So far so good. The blades are soft to the touch but thick enough to withstand foot traffic and the color is a wonderful grassy green … not that dark green color of an over-nitrogenized lawn. The next step is to try it in our lawn, which is in dire need of attention.

Autumn is the optimal time to seed a lawn. To redo an existing lawn in the spring, Christopher suggests letting the grass grow to seven inches or so then mowing it down as low as possible to scalp existing grass. Use a slit-seeder – a machine that slices rows into existing soil where it deposits grass seed -  or overseed the area with fescues. To give new seed a better start, top-dress the area with good quality compost before slit-seeding or overseeding. Of course, you’ll have to water regularly until the seed is established. However, limit watering once summer comes to encourage deep root growth.

Christopher, who is a sustainable lawn consultant at Smart Lawn, also suggests adding clover to your grass seed blend.  As one of the legume crops, clover fixes nitrogen into the soil where grass roots use it as needed. Thus, clover is a low-maintenance, natural way to provide nitrogen to the lawn. Clover takes mowing and foot-traffic well and is salt-tolerant, making it a good addition to roadside areas and has the extra benefit of attracting a host of pollinators to its flowers.

The bottom line is a lawn is nothing more or less than a large green garden … a large green garden you can grow best with the right seed for the right place. A large green garden you can grow with minimal maintenance and for maximal enjoyment.

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  sustainable lawn.

 

You Can Grow That! is a blog meme idea germinated by C.L. Fornari of Whole Life Gardening.  On the fourth of each month, C.L. asks gardeners to remind the world You Can Grow That! because gardening is good for people.

Consider yourself reminded.

Link to more You Can Grow That! posts through the You Can Grow That! Facebook Page. Other sources of low-maintenance grasses: Prairie Nursery, Seed Superstore, Outside Pride, or ask your local independently-owned nursery for low-maintenance grass blends.

Also, read more about the extent of lawns in the U.S. from Earth Observatory/NASA, and more about water for landscape irrigation.

Garden thoughtfully,

Joene

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Gardening Is Not Static – My March 2012 Gardening Oops (GOOPs)

If you think gardening is static, think again. Plant a garden bed one year and there’s a really good chance it will not look the same the next. Plants grow, get eaten by creatures, attacked by disease, crushed by weather and planted in less than optimal spots. These gardening situations all fall under my Gardening Oops – GOOPS for short – meme.

On the first of each month I tell all about a GOOPs in my gardening life. Some months I tell of mistakes I’ve made, other times I recount a GOOPs that is not entirely my fault. I also ask other gardeners – that’s you – to recount a GOOPs tale.

Why? Because every gardener has been unsuccessful at some point. This can be discouraging but, sometimes, it helps to know that other gardeners have faced similar GOOPs. It’s a misery loves company thing.

My March 2012 GOOPs tale goes through the history of one garden bed on my property and many GOOPs.

Fourteen years ago my family moved into our new home on newly cleared land. After getting the driveway paved I envisioned a nice garden in the space between the driveway, a walkway and a lawn area.

The very young garden started like this in 2000.

driveway bed-2 year 2000 001driveway bed 2000 001

That’s a white lilac in the center left , bayberries at the back of the bed, and a variegated red twig dogwood on the far right. Artemesias, red coleus, and Siberian iris are planted throughout.

All would have been fine but deer love coleus and the variegated dogwood – I was just learning about deer faves – and that floppy silver mound Artemisia had to go. All GOOPs.

I expanded the bed and did some rearranging so it looked like this by the spring of 2004.

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The bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) and Siberian iris remain and the white lilac (in bloom) went to the right side of the bed along with a new PeeGee hydrangea paniculata. On the left I added Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ as a ground cover and a dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’), not knowing at the time that burning bush are invasive. A GOOPs.  In the center there’s a variegated lacecap hydrangea macrophylla, a plant I’ve always adored but, it turns out, so do deer. Another GOOPs. Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina), common chives, different sedums, some small ornamental grasses and pansies filled in. (The lawn was due for reseeding when I took this shot)

I did not like the shape of the bed so I expanded it again. By May of 2005 it looked like this.

05-2005 driveway bed 6  05-2005 driveway bed 5

The hydrangeas and lilac survived due to winter fencing to prevent deer browsing. The lacecap hydrangea never bloomed – deer always got to the growing tips, in spite of sprays, after the fence came down. The bed looked okay during May and into early summer but did not do anything for me the rest of the year. And if you look closely, the red heuchera needed chicken wire to prevent deer browsing. More GOOPs.

With more tweaking – the lacecap, heuchera, variegated iris, euonymus bush, and white lilac went elsewhere, a new Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca’ hiding behind the hydrangea), and filling in of the perennials, the bed looked better by the summer of 2010.

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By May 2011 the bed made me happy.

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The spruce had more presence, as did the buddleia on the right.

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Narcissi bloomed in early spring, followed by iris, poppy, Lamb’s Ear, thyme, foxglove and other perennials. Solidago, lavender, self-sown Black-eyed Susan, and buddleia took the spotlight until the hydrangea stole the show, and I no longer needed to fence the bed in winter.

Then Irene blew through Connecticut and took down the PeeGee hydrangea and the, by then, six-foot tall buddleia. I’m sure voles had been nibbling on the roots of each, weakening each shrub’s hold to the ground – another GOOPs, albeit not mine.

Gardening is not static. Changes come. Each is a challenge. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we have a GOOPs.

You must have at least one GOOPs to share. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not gardening enough. Tell us your GOOPs in a comment below, or on your blog with a teaser comment here.

Stop back again the first of next month when I’ll have another GOOPs tale to share.

Garden thoughtfully – Joene

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry