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.


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:


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.


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:


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!


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:


Upcoming Tours of Green Homes & Businesses

Each October, the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) coordinates nationwide tours of homes, commercial and municipal buildings that feature green technologies.  The purpose is to show others how cool green buildings can be.  The 9000 sites on the tours use sustainable strategies that increase energy efficiency, use solar energy, conserve water, use reclaimed or recycled materials, and generally have a smaller impact on the earth than their conventional counterparts.

Tour attendees will learn from home and business owners about some of the great benefits of going green:  saving money on utility bills; finding federal, state and local incentives to fund green projects; and of course reducing one’s environmental impact to help leave the planet in good shape to sustain future generations.

ASES also hosts an Annual National Solar Sweepstakes where winners walk away with generous gift cards that can help make their residences or businesses green.

If you’re lucky enough to live or work in an innovative green home or business and would like to add it to the tour list, there’s still time to register.  Most tours take place on Saturday, October 5th, but some start as early as September 20th.

Visit the American Solar Energy Society for details and tour maps.

photo above of the 2010 tour participant Talcott Mountain Science Center, courtesy of Environmental Headlines

The Colorful Autumn Garden

As fall approaches, night temperatures add a chill to the air, but days bring lots of sunny skies.  Your garden beds may be generally dry, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be filled with lively, colorful plants until frost.  Color is not only born from flowers, but from interesting foliage as well.  Here, we take a cue from our natural surroundings where the fall colors take center stage.

I’ve included design tips for your autumn garden, as well as some of my favorite native plants that really shine at this time of year:


Looking to Plants for Energy Solutions

If you haven’t seen the PBS Nova series, “Making Stuff: …Smarter, Safer, Stronger,…,” then you’re missing out on seeing incredible science making our world a better place.  In the “Making Stuff:  Cleaner” episode, David Pogue provides us with an entertaining look into some of the latest technological advances in creating and storing energy to power our cars, homes and factories.

Pogue visits Nate Lewis, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology who is working on artificial photosynthesis, imitating how plants convert sunlight into energy.  Modeled after the leaves of the Aspen tree, Mr. Lewis’ silicon is 10 times more efficient than plants in capturing, converting and storing the Sun’s energy into chemical fuel.  It’s similar to our existing solar panels, but is less expensive and more durable!

Learn more and watch the episode here or check your local TV listings.

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