flowers

Spring is on its way

By: Jayne

Spring is on its way, and of course that means lots of planting; so I’d like to share some ideas with you on planting in your own community. Planting flowers, bushes, trees, and vegetables can be very beneficial for you. For instance, at my school, we are working on planting flowers in the shape of our school logo, SH. It’s an easy way to show school spirit in a eco-friendly way. You could even be a little more creative by using flowers with your school colors. But the planting doesn’t have to stop there- having vegetable gardens is another excellent idea for a home or school. Where I go to school we have a special day each year where we harvest our vegetables and eat them for lunch. The vegetables we usually plant are tomatoes, lettuce, and basil. In the past we’ve planted pumpkins as well. By doing this in your home, you can save money when buying groceries, and have fresh food whenever you like. So use your green thumb this spring and plant something in your town!

Jayne is a Junior High student in Sleepy Hollow, NY and has an interest in environmental protection.  She is a proud member of the Environmental Action Club at her school.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Meaning of Poinsettias

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Luz V. García, MS,

How beautiful is the view of poinsettias as a seasonal arrangement in our homes!

Poinsettias are native plants from Mexico. In Mexico they celebrate Poinsettia Day, on December 12, a tradition that began after the first American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett discovered the plant in 1828.

But the first references to this plant go way back to the times of Aztec emperor Montezuma who in the 15 Century demanded that Poinsenttias be brought to the City of Mexico from lower lands in Mexico. The Aztecs called the plant “ CUITLAXOCHITL” that means ”Star Flower” and back then the plant was given the scientific name “Euphorbia pulcherrima” which means “ the most beautiful”. Aztecs used the white milky suds of the plant as a medicine for fever and extracted the pigment for makeup and also to dye their clothes..

But it was in the 16th century that the Franciscan Monks in Mexico began the tradition of using poinsettias for Christmas decorations. In the 17 Century, Mexicans celebrated the Day of the Lady of Guadalupe also on December 12 and they call the poinsettia the” Flower of Christmas Eve “. There is a Mexican legend that talks about two children, a boy and a girl, who had nothing to take to the Church Nativity Scene on Christmas Eve, but left a green poinsettia plant as their gift. According to the legend on Christmas morning, the leaves of their poinsettia had turned into a bright red color.

The first scientific records in Mexico about poinsettias were written in the 17 Century, by botanist Juan Balme.

In USA, the U.S. House of Representative proclaimed in July 2002 “Poinsettia Day” in honor of Paul Ecke Jr who in 1900 discovered a technique that allows the reproduction in mass through poinsettia seeds. That is why it is so easy to find this plant here in US during winter season. The world production of this plant has increased considerably and now we can see a variety of colors, from rose to white and even blue.

What is the meaning of poinsettias to you? For me, it represents a flower that announces the beginning of Christmas season. It does not matter, where our poinsettias come from, the truth is that we enjoy them in a variety of colors and if we are fortunate to cultivate them throughout the year.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Earth Day is My Birthday

studentHello, my name is Christina and I’m 12 years old.  The reason why I am so engaged in the environment is because of two things. First, my birthday falls on April 22nd, Earth Day. I love the fact that my birthday falls on such an important day.  The second reason is because I love animals so much.

This year, on my birthday, my mom bought me an apple tree.  It is already starting to grow apples.  Every year on my birthday, we always do something for Earth Day at home and at school. Last year, my class brought in old plastic water bottles, coffee containers, etc.  Then we planted flowers in them, watching them grow through the year.  My mom calls me a flower child.  The year before that, we went outside to a trail that was covered in litter and helped pick it up, cleaning it up for everyone to enjoy.  That’s not all.  I’ve installed hummingbird feeders also because they’re important in the flower/ plant pollination process.  I think that having my birthday on Earth Day is definitely shaping me as a person. I always want to make it a goal to honor and protect our environment.

Christina is an exceptional young lady who was awarded an artist of the community for fire prevention week. She was in the district finals for Track and was nominated to run in her school hexathalon for exceptional athletes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Early Blooms and Bugs

By Lina Younes

Due to the mild spring, many bulbs and flowering plants have been blooming early.

In our area, forsythia and bulbs were the first to make their appearance. Azalea bushes that normally bloom around Mother’s Day already peaked several weeks ago. Even rose bushes have some breathtaking flowers earlier than usual. As I was taking a walk, I couldn’t resist capturing the moment through some pictures which I’m sharing with you.

Unseasonably mild temperatures have also ushered the early arrival of other living creatures to our neighborhoods: bugs. While we welcome beneficial insects, especially pollinators such as butterflies and bees, we will not be putting out the welcoming mat for pests such as ants, termites, ticks and mosquitoes. Special measures will be needed to control biting insects that can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Our web pages indicate which insect repellents are most effective in controlling specific biting insects. When using insect repellents or any pesticide products, always remember to read the label first.

So, as you’re getting your garden ready for the planting season, adopt greenscaping practices to attract beneficial insects. By planting the right native trees, plants and shrubs you’ll create an inviting environment for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Any gardening projects in the making? Please share your ideas with us.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rediscovering Paradise Lost in your Backyard . . .

By Maryann Helferty

Question: Where are EPA volunteers acting as explorers to rediscover the Paradise Lost in the backyards and woodlands of the Mid-Atlantic? Answer: The 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show,   where EPA staff have constructed an educational showcase of environmental gardening techniques since 1993. This year’s exhibit is titled “Palekaiko Nalowale,” roughly translated from Hawaiian into “Paradise Lost.”

Thousands of gardening guests venture into the lost world of plants indigenous to this region. I spoke with one team member who shares his knowledge of botany and vegetable gardening by working on the exhibit. Todd Lutte, a wetlands biologist, often encounters native plants in swampy bogs or steep cliffs. He has a deep appreciation for interconnections between native plants and the web of life. For example, local insects evolved in tandem with native plants so they depend on each other for survival. So when gardeners plant native species such as the highbush blueberry, they also invite bumblebees as pollinators. These delicious berries nourish humans, birds and mammals and the leaves feed a host of butterfly and moth larvae.

Each exhibit visit is a teachable moment. Visitors peer into the pinky bell flowers of a sheep laurel,  or dwarf azalea and are touched by their spring beauty. Factsheets suggest how to select native plants at nurseries. Curious greenthumbs learn to pick plants adapted to local climate and soil, while controlling pests more easily and using less water and fertilizer.

Agency volunteers share experience with using integrated pest control on roses and tomatoes. So, Todd recommends knowing insects to remove aphids and beetles by hand and leave the beneficial insects to help your garden. Video loops help visitors learn about low-impact techniques like companion planting or using bait and traps to control pests. We’re delighted this year to share our thousands of teachable moments with the EPA pesticide program.

It takes a cadre of volunteers to create the magic of a blooming lesson on “green” gardening. Some care for herbaceous plants in personal greenhouses; others force mountain laurels and honeysuckle to flower in winter. Volunteer carpenters create the sturdy flooring and beautiful fencing. With the help of many, EPA spends only one-eighth of the budget of comparable educational exhibitors. Thanks to two decades of team effort, creativity and green thumbs, there have been many awards earned throughout the years. Ah, spring!

About the author: Maryann Helferty is an Environmental Scientist with the Office of Environmental Innovation for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. In her work on drinking water protection and sustainability, she blends science and education tools to promote the Environment, Social Equity and a Sustainable Economy.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Gardening With Water Use In Mind

By Amber Lefstead

This year, for the first time in my life, I purchased a gardening spade and seeds for my garden. I love a beautiful garden, but the task of creating and maintaining one has always been daunting. But from the moment I began, I fell in love with it. There is something so satisfying about gardening—feeling the dirt crumble between your fingers as you loosen the earth, planting a seed and watching it grow into a beautiful flower.

That’s not to say it isn’t hard work. It is. But, seeing your yard transform into something beautiful and beneficial for the environment makes it so rewarding. Before I started my garden, it was barren with a Magnolia tree stump in the middle. Now, it is full of flowers, ground covers, and mulch. The flowers feed the neighborhood bees, butterflies, and birds, while the ground covers and mulch blanket the soil, keeping it moist and cool.

After planting my garden, the real trick has been maintaining it. With this hot, dry summer in Washington D.C. , that has been no easy task. As temperatures rise during the peak water season, it’s a good time for everyone to consider their outdoor water use. Peak water season is usually late July and early August and is the time when residential water use is highest.

Water use was a big concern in creating my landscape. I work for the EPA WaterSense program and, among other things, I create educational materials for consumers on water-efficient landscaping, so I kept water in mind at every step:

  • I purchased low water use plants and seeds that would need minimal supplemental water
  • I amended sandy soil patches with compost to help hold moisture at the root zone
  • I loosened plants’ roots from their potting soil before planting to encourage deep root growth
  • I covered exposed soil with mulch to hold in moisture and minimize evaporation

I also make sure to water at night or in the early morning to minimize evaporation. And I water deeply and infrequently to encourage the plants’ roots to spread into the surrounding soil so they are resourceful and drought tolerant. In the next year or so after their roots establish, they should need minimal supplemental water beyond normal rainfall. I’ll let you know how that goes!

About the author: Amber Lefstead joined EPA in 2009 as the Outdoor Coordinator for the WaterSense program. Her recent low water use garden installation was inspired by her work at the Agency.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Sights and Scents of Spring – – The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show

By Bonnie Turner-Lomax

During these last weeks of winter, many of us in the Mid-Atlantic region are starting to think about warmer weather, spring and gardening. In an area recuperating from record snowstorms, cold temperatures, and icy highways, the Philadelphia International Flower Show is a much-anticipated reminder that Spring is just a few weeks away.

Each year in early March, garden exhibitors from all over the world gather in Philadelphia for the Flower Show, transforming the floor of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a wonderland of gardens, plants, and floral designs. The spectacular display annually attracts more than 250,000 visitors from all over the world, making the Philadelphia International Flower Show the largest indoor flower exhibit in the world. With its international appeal and audience, it is very fitting that the theme of the 2011 show is “Springtime in Paris.”

Since 1993, EPA has used this wonderful venue, which is only a few blocks from our Mid-Atlantic regional office, to educate gardeners on techniques that protect the environment and at the same time create beautiful gardens. Using native plants and recycled materials, our flower show team of volunteers designs, constructs, and creates an exhibit that vividly demonstrates the beauty and practicality of native plants, sustainable water usage, and beneficial landscaping techniques. While our exhibits always carry messages of sustainability, it is amazing to see a new and unique display each year conveying environmental messages in a special and beautiful way. And judging by the thousands of people who view our exhibit and speak with our volunteers, the environmental values and practices we display are growing in popularity.

In keeping with the show’s Parisian theme, the 2011 EPA exhibit is titled “Botanique Naturale,” which loosely translates to “Natural Garden” and focuses on the importance of native plants, wetlands, and watersheds. Visitors will see an exhibit which showcases the rich diversity of the native flora of wetlands and woodlands and depicts how people can use these plants to create a sustainable home garden. Here’s a sneak preview of the plants we’ll be using in our exhibition!

If you’re in the area, stop by and see for yourself the beauty and environmental benefits of sustainable gardening. The 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show runs from Sunday, March 6th through March 13th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. Whether you are an experienced gardener, an aspiring gardener, or just starting to get your hands dirty, there will be plenty to see, learn, and enjoy. See you at the Flower Show!

About the Author – – -Bonnie Turner-Lomax came to EPA Region’s mid-Atlantic Region in 1987 and has held several positions throughout the Region. She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.