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Five ways that your family’s quality of life will improve by “going natural” in your landscape.

What impact are your current landscaping choices having on your quality of life? Are you paying a lot of money each month for “maintenance” of a lawn, that in reality you are not using very much? Are you concerned about the products being applied to the lawn to “control grubs”? Do you know what these products actually do?  What about the impact that all those landscape maintenance machines used by crews have on human health and the environment? If you are concerned about what impact these suburban lawn care practices are having, you should be. Most of our current landscape maintenance routines consume a great deal of fossil fuels; just to have all the leaves and grass clippings bagged and hauled away to the landfill. Something’s not right here. Why on earth do we bag yard waste and throw it away? It makes no logical sense.

Instead, we need to assume custodial care of the land to which we have committed ourselves in the form of property ownership. We need to apply the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” in our home landscapes. We can compost our grass clippings, leaves and kitchen leaf waste on-site. There is no need to collect, bag, and toss out this precious material, that when bio-degraded, adds nutrients back into the soil. It becomes a win-win, as we are able to lower our household carbon footprint while reducing our contribution to the waste stream. By taking steps towards using ecologically sound practices in our yard maintenance, we can make five improvements to our overall quality of life.

1. and 2. Eco-friendly gardening reduces air and noise pollution in the environment.

By eliminating the use of gasoline-powered lawn maintenance equipment, we can reduce carbon emissions from our yard maintenance routine. Older lawn mowers and leaf blowers often do not meet any kind of meaningful emission reduction standards, and can be highly polluting. Switch to maintenance techniques that require your manual labor, such as a push mower for cutting grass, or using a rake for leaf cleanup. This will reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels to power mowers and blowers. Remember, electric powered machines are generally charged by electricity that was created by burning fossil fuels at a power plant, so switching to electric power tools does not necessarily reduce your carbon footprint. Learn more about your carbon footprint from this article from The Guardian, What is a Carbon Footprint?

3. Gardening provides a built-in fitness program.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I’ve always preferred to be outside working in the garden than exercising in a gym. Nothing beats accomplishing a satisfying workout, along with the feeling of a job well done from preparing a new garden bed! Digging, raking, heaving forkfuls of compost: these physical activities will give you an aerobic workout, along with exercise of key muscle groups in your legs, abdomen and upper body. Check out this Cooperative Extension site for the fitness numbers: Calories Burned During Gardening

4. Gardening provides family’s time for engaging in a meaningful activity together.

In these busy times, it can be difficult for families to find time to participate in an group activity together. However, we all recognize need to set aside time to take care of weekly household chores. Family yard work can be an additional part of that routine. When a family establishes a regular pattern of sharing responsibilities for gardening together, this provides an opportunity for them to grow in their knowledge and experience in a memorable way. Planning and creating a family vegetable garden is one way of setting aside a special time to work together in the garden. As children grow older, they may assume more complex responsibilities to assist their family with the yard work. and eventually, they will pass on their knowledge and skill to their own children.

5. Eco-friendly landscaping creates a healthier play environment for children and pets.

The “perfect, green” lawn, if that is one’s goal, comes at a great environmental cost, not to mention the deleterious effect it can have on the health of all living organisms. The regular application of chemical (inorganic) fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to lawns is a multi-million dollar a year business for Big Agriculture. The cumulative effects of these chemicals on the human body are not fully understood.  However, an increase in algal blooms in our waterways, the result of nitrogen and phosphorus infiltration into our aquifers, has demonstrated negative effects caused by excessive, point-source pollution. In Suffolk County, New York, the primary contributor to this problem is homeowner cesspools. But lawn fertilization also contributes significantly to this pollution. By going “natural” and forgoing fertilization, baby steps are taken towards reducing the excess nitrogen and phosphorus the flows into our drinking water aquifer. For more information, see Nature Conservancy Long Island – modeling nitrogen source loads on the north shore.

And you know those grubs in your lawn that are supposed to be so evil (according to lawn care experts)? Well, they transform into many different insects that provide food and sustenance for birds and other wildlife. So why are we killing these creatures? We need to learn to live with some levels of imperfection in our landscapes. Yes, grubs do eat grass roots. However this generally only becomes a problem where the ecosystem is out of balance. So let the birds do their job, and leave the grubs alone.

These small changes in your landscape maintenance routine will definitely help to improve your family’s quality-of-life, and the health of your neighborhood ecosystem. We welcome your questions and comments.

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Scenes from Summers Past

Over the years, the garden has transformed from a partly sunny area, where many flowers and herbs could manage with part shade; to a dense, shady retreat that is dominated by foliage standouts and undemanding flowers and shrubs. Hostas and daylilies were favorites for years. But as the shade encroached, the daylilies were crowded out, and many hostas were at risk of being lost under the rhododendrons.

Furthermore, as many trees grew and aged, some suffered significant storm damage from the brutal nor’easters that dumped heavy snow in the spring. But leafy ground covers help to add textural interest along the ground. Goatsbeard, Lenten roses, tall phlox and ferns have meandered around the garden, filling spaces where the less sturdy succumbed to the elements.

Does your property need to be transformed? Message Mother Oak’s Garden today and make an appointment for a landscape consultation.

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Did You Know?

© Renée K. Velkoff

Many villages and towns, such as Northport on the North Shore of Long Island, have strict regulations governing the removal of trees from one’s property. Existing trees, especially large stands of good-sized trees (24″ caliper and larger), provide many benefits to a community. From providing shade from the hot sun during the afternoon, to a place for birds, mammals and insects to carry-on the daily tasks of living: collecting food, building nests, rearing young.

By removing just one tree, habitat for hundreds of different plants and animal species can be destroyed. This can have a far-reaching impact on the overall local ecosystem. So when considering the removal of trees from your property, think about what you may lose when you cut one mature tree down. Be aware of which trees are more beneficial to an eco-community than others. Planting and conserving native trees helps to provide cooling shade in the summer, beautiful fall color, winter interest during the snowy months and habitat for native, Long Island species.

Mother Oak’s Garden can help you create and draft a plan the for the woodland, shade garden you desire. Our ecologically responsible design services are thorough; from site analysis to completed design. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our designer.

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Bumble Bees in the Garden

© Renée K. Velkoff

Check out this video of a bumble bee “buzz collecting” pollen!

Bumble bees are solitary, ground-dwelling native bees that are excellent pollinators. Check out this bumble bee gorging on the pollen in a rose blossom.

Read more about bumble bees here: https://xerces.org/bumblebees/

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Attracting Pollinators

© Renée K. Velkoff

How can you attract pollinators to your garden? Think of your own needs when looking for a place to live. What do you need? Shelter, water and food. An animal’s needs are basically the same. Pollinators come in many shapes and sizes, including birds, bees, wasps, flies, other flying insects. One bee that gets little attention in our concern about pollinators is the solitary, mason bee (of the genus Osmia). More about the lifecycle and nesting habits of this bee can be found at this cited article, Mason Bee – Wikipedia.

These industrious bees are excellent pollinators for your vegetable garden, so it’s important to encourage them to nest on your property. Along with your tomatoes and peppers in your vegetable garden, be sure to plant plenty of bee-attracting flowers such as agastache (hyssop), echinacea (purple coneflower) and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans). Suffice it to say, that this hard working bee simply asks for a small, cozy shelter within which to lay it’s eggs and raise another brood. Bundles of hollow reeds usually do the trick, along with a spot of mud nearby.

Cardboard tubes, which can be widely found from internet merchants, are not actually appropriate homes for mason bees. The paper cardboard can disintegrate over time, subsequently molding when exposed to heavy rains, which can harm the developing brood. However you can obtain excellent, long lasting bee bundles right here from Mother Oak’s Garden. Add one or two bundles to your garden for the bees!

Nothing pleases a mason bee more than having a ready-made habitat on site, ready to go! These expertly crafted bee bundles will provide a nesting place for solitary, mason bees. Tie one firmly about three to six feet off the ground, preferably facing east, to encourage bees to nest inside. Locate your mason bee home near mud, which the bees will use inside their nest. Enjoy a bountiful vegetable harvest this fall with the help of your friends, the mason bees!

Bee Bundles
Photo by Randee Daddona


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Native Plant Beauty: Mountain Laurel

© Renée K. Velkoff

The recent, generous rains have brought forth the fresh glory of late spring, with it’s lush greens, and brilliant hues of pink, fuchsia and magenta, falling in cascades from the trees. One particular shrub that holds a demure place in the landscape is Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). It’s scraggly outline can be seen on the slopes of wooded hillsides. It’s pointy buds emerge pink; their oddly shaped buds are reminiscent of a space probe, or spiky virus!

Kalmia latifolia - Mountain Laurel
Kalmia latifolia – Mountain Laurel

However, these lovely, broadleaf evergreens tolerate the dry, sandy soil found on Long Island’s North Shore. Although slow to establish, it is worth the wait to watch their buds develop, and subsequently bloom. But you may need to protect them from the deer! Deer are voraceous foragers, especially in early spring when the pickin’s are slim, will chew those tender green shoots off before you get to see them open. Mountain laurels grow best when left undisturbed in the ground, so proper siting is essential from the outset, as they do not tolerate transplanting very well.

Mountain Laurel in Bloom
Mountain Laurel in Bloom

Contact us at Mother Oak’s Garden today to plan your woodland garden!

 

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Why is it so important to eliminate invasive plant species from your yard?

© Renée K. Velkoff

Ah, those pesky seedlings, and vines and… “Invasives” are plants that have had an advantage in the environment due to plentiful resources, or a lack of competition from other species. Many manage to germinate from seed easily, primarily with the help of birds and other wildlife; and can take over large swaths of the landscape, leaving the ground underneath barren of native species. Those maple samaras provide little in the way of food for our birds.

img_1743Norway Maple seedling, germinated from last year’s flurry of samaras.

So which trees, shrubs and vines are such enemies of the North Shore woodland landscape?

  • Japanese Maple – Acer palmatum
  • Norway Maple – Acer platanoides
  • Sycamore Maple – Acer pseudoplatanus
  • Bradford Pear – Pyrus calleryana
  • Burning Bush – Euonymus alatus
  • Barberry – Berberis thunbergii
  • Multiflora Rose – Rosa multiflora
  • Oriental Bittersweet – Celastrus orbiculatus
  • Japanese Wisteria – Wisteria sinensis
  • English Ivy – Hedera helix
  • Vinca or “myrtle” – Vinca minor
  • Butterfly Bush – Buddleia davidii

Other perennials and grasses include:

  • Japanese Knotweed – Fallopia japonica aka Polygonum cuspidatum
  • Bamboo – Phyllostachys nigra
  • Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
  • Garlic Mustard –  Alliaria petiolata

How many of you are surprised by some of the plants on this list? Many of our traditional garden favorites are here – flowering pear trees, Japanese maples, burning bush, barberry! However, they re-produce readily, displacing native plant species (which provide food and habitat for native animals). Some of these plants are now restricted for sale, or are on the NYDEC Invasive Species List.

img_1878Red Japanese Maple with Burning Bush. Native Florida dogwood with white bracts, is in the background. Vinca and English Ivy cover the ground.

Seedlings, such as tiny Japanese and Norway maples, are easy to pull. However, established stands of weed trees, shrubs and vines may require the skill and safety equipment of a professional landscape contractor for removal. Additionally, it is important to consider that when removing invasive plants such as garlic mustard, to not let them go to seed! Putting it on the compost will just spread it to your compost. Bag it and put any unwanted seeds or diseased plant waste in the garbage.

Other plants such as Japanese knotweed, must be pulled by the roots, relentlessly! Add this to your garden workout routine! Just be sure to align your body properly when pulling weeds so you don’t throw your back out.

Lesser celandine is far more difficult to eradicate, as it develops seeds in its axils which fly everywhere when the plant is disturbed. Smothering may be your best bet. Right now, I have a standoff between it, and English ivy on a slope. Nobody is going anywhere to fast, though.

img_1567Hemlock surrounded by lesser celandine and English Ivy.

The Long Island Invasive Species Management Area (LIISMA) is a local organization committed to battle the problems presented by the influx of invasive plant species. They are seeking volunteers to aid with invasive plant eradication. You may also report invasive insects or plants found in your Long Island garden to: NYiMapinvasives

img_1625Detail of lesser celandine corm.

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Being a member of a larger eco-community.

© Renée K. Velkoff

Why is it important to think of your suburban property within the larger ecological context of your neighborhood?

Even though many Long Islanders live in what could be called the suburbs, the physical landscape of the North Shore does offer opportunities to promote the growth of native species;  which provide food, shelter and habitat for native pollinating insects, birds, and animals. Deciduous woodlands abound across the North Shore of Lond Island, New York; stretching across from Flushing Meadow, through Bayside, Douglaston, and Little Neck, in Queens. Then into Nassau County, enveloping Kings Point, Sands Point, and Plandome, though the former manses and horse farms east of Glen Cove, and encompassing all of Lattingtown, Brookville, Oyster Bay, Laurel Hollow, and Woodbury. And further east still, into Suffolk County; entire swaths of Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Centerport, Northport, Fort Salonga and Kings Park are enveloped in the lush, green woodlands that hold sway over these morainal soils. So even though our governmental systems have imposed property boundaries on its citizens, mother earth is not quite so rigid in its structure. The glacial deposits from the past, clearly have set the tone for how our ecosystem works today.

What drainage watershed does the runoff from your residence flow toward? Believe it or not, the water has to flow somewhere. Naturally, it will seek to flow down hill. So learn about the local watershed in which you live. This information is readily available online. Currently, researchers at Stony Brook University are investigating ways to remediate the algae blooms caused by groundwater degradation and contamination of our adjacent waterways from the direct infiltration of cesspool effluent and lawn fertilizers. As Suffolk County residents, the majority of us are not connected to public water treatment systems, and thus contribute to this problematic and ongoing water pollution from cesspools. Our government has extended possible economic relief for upgrading our waste disposal systems, but ultimately, it isn’t enough. We must all reduce our point-source water pollution from whatever sources we can control.

Environmentally considerate landscaping seeks to help to maintain and conserve resources, so we are not consuming them unnecessarily. Water resource mismanagement has lead to crises such as those seen abroad in South Africa, as well as the contaminated municipal water in Flint, Michigan. It becomes necessary to incorporate a change in expectation and incorporate a new paradigm when it comes to appreciating a natural landscape. Understanding our role within a much larger, interconnected web, is requisite before fully embracing an eco-friendly approach to landscape design and landscape management.

What is an ecosystem?

As a former educator, I prefer to use established definitions: : the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit – Merriam-Webster Dictionary So when we think of our neighborhoods, it does not serve us well to consider our boundaries by property lines. Legally, we can only make changes to our properties. So what we do in our yard will impact those around us, and vice versa. So we must think larger than ourselves. Spraying for ticks might just kill your neighbor’s prized Koi. Placing Roundup along your fence line to kill weeds may also kill your neighbor’s perennial garden. And so it goes. Be mindful of others before making big changes to your local environment. Our environment IS complex, and made up of many living actors, all working in concert. Our actions can upset the ecological balance. So we need to be mindful stewards of the small portions of our ecosystem that we have entrusted ourselves to care for.

How does the geology, climate, and history of land use shape the physical environment in which we live?

As a historian, everything has a story, and one of great importance is the geologic development of the earth, and how geothermal and geophysical changes have provides the underlying structures of our soils and aquifers. Does water drain quickly or slowly? What minerals are present and how do they influence pH? Is humusy soil present, or scarce? Has the topsoil been removed entirely, leaving only clay, sand or sub-soil? Understanding the geologic history helps to know what will thrive and what will not.

Our region’s climate is a bit dreamy in some ways, a real nightmare in others. living on an island, we are bathed daily in tempering breezes, that keep the heat at bay in summer, and moderate the chill of the polar north during the winter. Thus we can have sparkling clear summer skies, periods of rain and wind that seem to last days on end, and mountains of snow that never end. For the gardener, it can be quite enticing to grow plants that do not always thrive anywhere else in “the north”. So we can grow Crepe Myrtles, Cherry Laurels, Acuba, Southern Magnolias and Hydrangeas with glee. But our winters can be hard on these plants, and they can look pretty wretched come Spring. Needless to say, it is a great environment in which to establish native species. Most are deciduous, so they don’t get ravaged by snow loads and broken branches. Their hardiness and adaptability to the vagaries of our climate make them well suited to the woodland landscape.

When considering your own portion of the local ecosystem of your community, consider what humans have done there prior to your arrival. Was your property a part of a subdivision? Was it a farm? A manufacturing site? A forest? Was the soil stripped and removed, or do there appear to be areas of (virgin soil)? Often, hilly properties have undisturbed soil. Soil testing  is a great way to find out about the structure, and characteristics of your soil. Be sure to pull soil from several areas to get a representative sample. If you plan to grow food for personal consumption, get the soil tested for hazardous materials such as lead. In days gone by, many an old, dilapidated car rusted out and leaked fluid in old town and village lots. If environmental problems are found, its best to know in advance.

What can you do?

By adopting environmentally sustainable practices that help to mitigate water pollution, we also create healthier environments for our families, children and pets. We lower the risks of illness caused by excessive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. By incorporating eco-friendly landscaping maintenance techniques – like raking leaves – practiced by the entire family, we engage in cooperative experiences which provide physical exercise, skills development and family time.  We learn to incorporate the familiar idea of “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” into our landscape maintenance practices.

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