Great Native Ground Covers, Part II

In Part I of this series, I highlighted just some of the varied ground covers, including evergreen plants, ferns and flowering perennials that are suitable for many different types of landscapes.  I also talked about why ground covers are better than lawns.  Here, I’ll focus on many more types of ground covers that are environmentally-friendly, and perfect for slopes or any other area you don’t want to mow.  Plus, ground covers are far more interesting than any lawn out there!

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Free Trees for Philly!

Philadelphia residents are very fortunate this spring to receive up to 2 FREE trees for their yards from TreePhilly, a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Wells Fargo and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

According to TreePhilly, “The purpose of the Yard Tree Program is to contribute to the tree canopy in the city; the layer of branches and leaves that capture falling rain, reduce flooding, clean our air, and shade our streets and homes.”  See my earlier post here about additional benefits of trees, including lowering heating and cooling bills!

There are six free tree giveaway events taking place between Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 13th.  This year, twelve different tree species are being offered, so there’s one that will work well in every yard!  The trees are large enough (4-6′ tall) to make an instant impact on your property, but small enough to easily transport them.  They’re even throwing in the mulch for your new trees for free!

TreePhilly will also provide planting and care demonstrations to teach you all you need to know!

 

 

A World Without Flowers?

We’re all looking forward to spring, a time of renewal and beauty, and the opportunity to get outside and improve our surroundings.  Appealing landscape design often involves the artful arrangement of flowering plants, but imagine for a moment that 90% of flowers are no longer able to bloom.  This could be our future reality with essential pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and bats, being decimated in alarming numbers.

So, why are pollinator numbers dropping so drastically?  Pesticides, lack of food (nectar & pollen) & water, loss of nesting habitats from development, disease and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder.

It’s not only flowering plants that are affected by a lack of pollinators, but also our very own food supply.  According to the Pollinator Partnership, “one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators.”  Pollinators are responsible for the quality, quantity and size of our food crops.  Even the economic value of pollinators is staggering, in the billions of dollars per year.

The good news is that we can all do some easy things to help pollinators (and ultimately ourselves):

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Great Native Ground Covers, Part I

Our native ground cover plants are far superior to turf grass, which is not native, because they’re low maintenance.  They don’t need fertilizers or pesticides, and they don’t need to be mowed or watered once established (learn more from my previous posts here and here).  Plus, they help manage stormwater runoff, allowing rainwater to follow their deep roots down into the earth where it can replenish our depleted aquifers.  Ground covers also reduce erosion on slopes, conserve soil moisture, add nutrients to the soil, replenish organic matter and suppress weeds.

Ground covers provide critical food and habitat for birds, butterflies, valuable bees and other wildlife (Learn the must-haves for a great butterfly garden here).  Creating a  healthy garden also means a more balanced web of life, which typically results in less bug problems.

Of course there are aesthetic reasons to plant ground covers too.  They can define a space as borders or edging; they can fill in areas in front of taller, leggier perennials and shrubs; they add texture to the landscape; and they can create quite a design statement when planted in mass.

Ground covers come in all shapes and sizes, evergreen and deciduous, flowering and fruiting, and grow in a wide variety of site conditions.  Here, I’ve listed those best suited for the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., but many are suitable for the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and Southeast, as well.

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What’s Blooming Now? Winter Gardens! Brave the Cold & Explore!

Visitors to public gardens value the colorful blooms in spring and summer, but there is still much to appreciate even during the cold, bleak winter months!  Outdoor winter gardens and arboretums feature bright fruit, colorful & textural tree bark, steadfast evergreen backdrops, fantastic form & structure, and even appealing art & sculpture.

Here’s a list of some great gardens to visit to brighten your day:

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How to Prevent Tree-related Storm Damage

The major snow and ice storm that struck 22 states last week, was the 2nd worst (Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 was #1)  in the power company’s history here in southeastern Pennsylvania.  There were over 700,000 power outages, many caused by downed trees.

Some might argue to just get rid of trees, but trees provide SO many benefits that it wouldn’t make sense to go to that extreme.

The good news is that damage to our homes, cars and powerlines can be prevented by planting trees in the right spot to begin with, by properly pruning them and by identifying problem trees.

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Got Mosquitoes? Act Now to Help Save Insect-Eating Bats!

Okay, so mosquitoes might be the last thing on your mind during these bitter winter months, but you know as soon as warmer weather arrives, and you want to get back out in the garden, they’ll be out there with you.  Here are some tips to reduce the future numbers of mosquitoes, stink bugs, and insects that cause damage to agricultural crops.

A great eco-friendly way to get rid of disagreeable insects is with bats.  So, bats might be on your list of creepy animals, but they provide an invaluable service to our environment.  In fact, according to Defenders of Wildlife, “A single little brown bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in a single hour!”

Unfortunately, our bat populations are declining significantly due to habitat loss and white nose syndrome (WNS).  White nose syndrome has already killed millions of bats in North America and affects them when they are hibernating in the winter.

What can you do?  Around your home:

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Solar-powered Lights Add Sparkle to the Night

Now that the days are filled earlier with darkness, it’s the perfect time to brighten up your outdoor spaces.  Solar-powered lights are ideal since they add nothing to your electric bill, and they come in such a wide assortment, there’s a light for practically every situation!

  • An arbor or trellis
  • Streetlamp style lights for your front yard, patio or pool areas
  • Motion-sensor lights
  • Safety Lighting for Steps
  • Spotlights for Trees, sculpture, architectural features
  • Accent/decorative pieces (lanterns, windchimes, garden stakes, house numbers, even color-changing objects)
  • Pathways/walkways
  • Porches and patios
  • Deck and fence railings & posts

By soaking up the sun during the day, many of these solar lights can light up all night!  You can find solar-powered lighting at your local hardware store and at many online retailers.

photo courtesy of Plow & Hearth

Keep Your Garden Growing with a Coldframe!

Your garden may be winding down for the winter, but it doesn’t have to!  A simple cold frame can provide a perfect micro-climate for growing vegetables to extend the garden season.  A cold frame, like the one pictured above, is essentially a bottomless box that sits right on the ground.  It should face south so the slanted glass door on the top will allow sunlight to heat things up.

You can actually start sowing seeds of your cold frame crops, such as scallions, chard, parsley, escarole, endive, dandelion, radicchio and carrots as early as mid-summer.  If inspiration to start a winter garden hasn’t come until now, try planting arugula, mâche (a salad green), spinach, claytonia, radishes, and lettuce, and in just a few weeks, you’ll have a fresh harvest!

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Tips for Fall Lawn and Garden Care

Autumn is not only a beautiful time of year, but it’s a perfect time for lawn and garden maintenance.  I am not a fan of lawns, as they require too much time, energy, money and maintenance to keep green and are actually detrimental to the environment (Read my earlier post here).  However, most people do have lawns, and learning how to care for them is essential to the well-being of the environment, as well as your children and pets.

Conventional, chemical-laden fertilizers and pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides and rodenticides) are down right dangerous.  Here is a list of tips for organic lawn and garden care that is safe for you and the earth:

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