Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An organic and drought tolerant fix to a convential and non-drought tolerant lawn

The dead-looking conventional lawn last August
Last spring, as part of the Slow the Flow Grant I received to relandscape my property in natives, I also shrunk my lawn by about 300 square feet removing most of the dead-looking areas of lawn and adding native plants instead. The sod had been put in the previous summer by the sellers of our house just before we bought it. It clearly wasn't drought tolerant because I pretty much killed most of the grass since I never watered it, as you can see in the photo to the left.

If I didn't have two young kids who love to run around barefoot on the lawn I would have shrunk it even more. But, since I am now committed to the lawn, we still have about 1400 square feet of it and it needs help.

This spring, just before a forecasted four days of rain, I spread pure compost from the Ipswich Curbside Compost program on the deadest-looking areas. The compost will hold on to water longer than plain top soil both slowing the flow of rain runoff as well as feeding the grass in a phosphate-free way.  Then I added a drought tolerant (mostly fescue) grass seed and let Mother Nature do her watering job:

The day I added compost and seed:

 Four days later after a few days of rain, the new seed hadn't sprouted yet but the grass that was still alive took off:


Two weeks later (I did do a light hand watering twice just to hold it over until the next heavy rains). The drought tolerant seed sprouted and is now dominating over the old non-drought tolerant grass:

And looking at it from the other side, the day of adding compost and seed:

 Four days later after rains:

Two weeks later:

Now this area of the lawn is pretty lush, I've even added some more compost in a few spots that were still thin. And these results were achieved with NO chemicals or a sprinkler. It's 100% organic and should be mostly drought tolerant now. I think next spring I'll get a few yards of compost delivered and do the whole thing.

The lush organic and drought tolerant lawn
This is really easy to do, and if you don't want to do it yourself there are organic lawn care services out there (J.Gil Organic Landscaping is a great local Mass. one) who only use compost and compost tea as fertilizer. You'll have to put up with a few weeds, but a dandelion or two never hurt anyone, and in fact are very good for the bees and butterflies.

And the best part: an organic and drought tolerant lawn is a lot less work and cheaper over time than a conventional one.  You don't have to be constantly spraying with harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals like Round-up, feeding it with high phosphate fertilizers which end up in lakes and rivers, and wasting money watering it with your sprinkler. It's a win/win for you, your children (who run barefoot on it and probably eat it), your pets (who probably eat the grass too) and the environment!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring comes to the native riverside garden

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
One year ago on May 11th I went on my first plant shopping trip with the Slow the Flow Grant money I received to completely relandscape about 4,000 square feet of bare mulch over plastic tarps we inherited when we bought our new home. One year later the plastic is gone, most of the invasive plants are gone, and the 62 varieties of native plants I planted are coming back bigger and heartier than when I bought them.

I was worried, since it was such a harsh winter, that so many things would die. And with almost two weeks now with no rain I was worried the shade plants wouldn't come back. But they are. There's nothing quite like the candy striping of the jack-in-the-pulpit (right). I never get tired of peaking under their green leaves to see this sight.

Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum)

Two weeks ago a friend called and said, "remember all that solomon's seal I have in my backyard? Well, it's taking over, do you want some?" WANT SOME? Of course! My girls and I went over and dug up a whole tub of it. It's already flowering, just in time for the returning hummingbirds. Haven't seen one yet but their buffet is waiting for them.

When we moved here eighteen months ago there was one clump of violets near the driveway. Violets are a great flower to attract frittilary butterflies, and are a nectar source for early bees.  I knew if I could keep my kids from picking the flowers last spring we'd have a lot more violets. And we do! There's a nice carpet of them forming in the shade along the front fence and the front door.

The subtle globeflower (Trollius laxus) is blooming
I need more foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). This could cover my whole yard and I'd still want more!

Trillium cuneatum
Since my plants are coming back so well I couldn't resist a little splurge last weekend at Garden in the Woods. This is my new baby, a Trillium cuneatum, not exactly native to the north shore of Massachusetts (more like NY down through the Appalachians). But it was so pretty I had to have it.

I've also purchased a few more treats this spring that I couldn't find last year. I added an American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) to the mini rain garden. And I bought a few low bush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) for the future terracing in the back where I will one day add a bigger rain garden.

Miterwort or 'Fairy cup' (Mitella diphyla)
And my three and almost five-year-old garden gnomes wanted a Fairy cup plant for their fairy garden, so I gave in. I have to admit, it's a really cute plant, they have good taste.