Garden Talk: April 1, 2013

From NGA Editors

Lawn Gone

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If you've been thinking about making your landscape more sustainable by reducing the size of your lawn or eliminating it altogether, but are unsure where to start, turn to Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press, 2013, $19.99) for inspiration and detailed advice. A landscape designer and photographer, author Penick tells how to create appealing and functional landscapes with little or no water-, fertilizer-, pesticide-, and maintenance-hungry conventional turf. Instead, with clear text and ample photographs, she describes how to use suitable plantings and well-designed hardscapes to craft beautiful, easy to care for, environmentally friendly outdoor spaces that can include such amenities as water features, play areas, and spaces designed for quite contemplation.

Often, one of the biggest challenges in going to little or no lawn is how to get rid of the existing sod without breaking your back. From digging it up to using a power-operated sod cutter to solarizing or using sheet mulch to killing it with herbicide, Penick gives the pros and cons of each method, as well what you'll need and how to do it. Then she follows with basic information on designing and installing unplanted areas, such as paths, patios, decks, and water features, and preparing and planting garden beds.

She also deals with the sometimes thorny political, social, and health and safety issues of going lawnless in chapters that cover contending with unenlightened city codes and homeowner association regulations; working with skeptical neighbors; ways to reduce problems with ticks, deer, and other unwelcome fauna; and designing fire-resistant plantings in areas where wildfire is a common threat.

Whether you are starting from scratch designing a new eco-friendly landscape or renovating an existing one for greater sustainability and lower maintenance, Lawn Gone! will be a valuable resource no matter where in the country you garden.

For more information on Lawn Gone!, go to Random House.

Raspberry Shortcake

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If you thought that fending off prickers was the price to be paid for homegrown raspberries, think again. Monrovia's new Raspberry Shortcake™ dwarf thornless raspberry lets you enjoy a harvest of these delicious and healthful fruits with nary a poke. Part of Morovia's Brazelberries™ Collection, this variety is also an excellent choice if you have limited space. Forming a compact mound only 2 to 3 feet high with a slightly wider spread, Raspberry Shortcake™ needs no staking and is suitable for container growing as well as an in-ground raspberry patch. Self-fertile, you can harvest the super-sweet berries in midsummer even if you just have room for just one plant.

Raspberry Shortcake™ is adapted to Zones 5-9 and does best in well-drained soil with full sun and regular watering. Fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer in early spring and summer. Once fruiting is finished, prune the canes that have fruited, leaving new canes to fruit the next season.

For more about Raspberry Shortcake™ dwarf thornless raspberry, go to Monrovia.

Where Have All the Monarchs Gone?

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It may not be breaking news that monarch butterflies are in decline, but the most recent population figures for this beautiful butterfly are especially alarming, according to an article in the New York Times. The results of a survey done in December 2012 by Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Mexican cell phone company Telcel, showed a steep drop in the number of monarchs that completed their annual migration to their wintering grounds in the Mexican forest. Where these insects once covered as many as 50 acres of forest, last year they were down to a mere 2.94 acres, a 59 percent decline from the size of the overwintering grounds just a year previous. (Because it is impossible to count the number of individual butterflies, the acreage of forest they cover is used to approximate their population levels.)

According to Omar Vidal, the head the WWF's Mexican operation, there has been a steady decline in monarch numbers over the last seven to eight years. While last year's drought and record-breaking heat in North America is thought to have contributed to this past year's drop, habitat loss is an important underlying and ongoing factor in the monarchs' decline. There has been a rapid expansion of farmland in the U.S.in recent years, with much of this acreage planted to herbicide-resistant soybeans and corn. This has resulted in more herbicide use, which in turn means less milkweed in the fields. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, and without this food source they can't reproduce. It's estimated that close to 150 million acres of monarch habitat have been lost as a result of these farming changes.

To read more about the monarch population decline, go to New York Times.

Bees with a Buzz

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Can't get going without the buzz from caffeine in your morning cup of joe? You may have more in common with honeybees than you might guess! It turns out that bees get a buzz from caffeine too -- delivered by a flower rather than in a steaming mug of coffee, however.

Caffeine is present in the nectar of some flowers, such as coffee (not surprisingly) and citrus. In fact coffee flowers naturally contain about the same concentration of caffeine as a cup of instant coffee! It's thought that one purpose of caffeine and similar bitter compounds in plants is to protect them by acting as a deterrent to feeding by foraging animals.

But caffeine at least seems to serve another purpose as well. The bees that collect the caffeine-laced nectar from flowers get hooked on the buzz. A study done at Newcastle University in England and reported in Science News showed that bees are more likely to remember a flower if its nectar contains caffeine, suggesting that the caffeine strengthens the reward circuitry in the a bee's brain and makes it more likely that the bee will be a return visitor. This is beneficial to the flower since the more often a pollinator visits a particular type of flower, the more likely it is that the flower will get paid a call by an insect carrying pollen from the same type of plant, a requirement for successful pollination.

Says Geraldine Wright, one of the authors of the study, ″This is the first instance to show that something we [humans] use as a drug is also a drug ecologically.″ Just don't let Starbucks know!

To read more about how caffeine's buzz attracts bees to flowers, go to Science News.

 
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