gardening

When Should I Plant My Bulbs?

By Lina Younes

In the Washington, DC metropolitan area, we’ve been fortunate to have a mild fall this year.  In fact, for the last two weekends, temperatures have been unseasonably warm.

The reason I mention this is because I wanted to start planting bulbs this past weekend. I was looking at bulbs that will bloom in the spring such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. Traditionally, gardening experts recommend that the best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs in our area is around Thanksgiving.  This year, I might have to wait until later in December for planting. Why may you ask? Well, it is recommended that nighttime temperatures should remain consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two weeks before bulb planting can begin. If you plant bulbs too early, you run the risk of having the bulbs rot or even to start growing prematurely if you get a warm spell in winter.

So, what is an amateur gardener to do? Well, for starters, you can check with your local agricultural cooperative extension offices. There you will find gardening experts who may answer questions on the phone providing excellent information related to the right plants for your area and other useful tips.

In the meantime, there are many steps that you can take to greenscape your garden. These techniques will help you grow a healthier yard, save time and money, and ultimately protect the environment. There are useful tips on how to apply greenscaping techniques for all seasons.  With the proper planning and care during the fall, you may be rewarded with beautiful blooming plants in the spring.

So, have you had a chance to plant any bulbs already? What are your gardening plans?  We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Digging the Earth

By Kathy Sykes

When I think about my Grandpa Lars, I always remember him digging in his garden, harvesting new red potatoes, and dill, as a good Swede, as well as lettuce, tomatoes, raspberries, and many other fruits and vegetables. His green thumb was inherited by my mother, Marguerite, who mastered the art of gardening vegetables, herbs and flowers. She not only inspired our family to love gardening, but also neighbors, who soon were planting their gardens too.

People on foot, bike or in cars often stopped, smiled and thanked us for our garden. Occasionally we received anonymous notes addressed to the “Residents of 2100 Rowley” thanking us for the beautifully cared for plants. We took pride in our mom’s treasure and in our small family contributions of weeding and watering the garden. Getting my hands dirty from digging in the ground was almost as much fun as using the hose to water seedlings and my siblings.

I also remember stepping outside to cut fresh flowers for the dinner table or sprigs of parsley, or basil that added the final touch and fragrance to her delicious dishes. I especially recall the crabapple tree that mom’s co-workers bought for her when my Grandfather died. Now the tree stands tall and provides much appreciated shade on hot and humid summer days.

The demands and distractions of modern society deter too many of us from digging in the ground. Time constraints and other dangers keep us indoors. Nowadays, children spend less time outside in unstructured play, while adults spend more time commuting in our sprawling cities.

This weekend we have the opportunity to share our knowledge of gardening and love of trees with youth and reminisce about the changes that have occurred during our lifetime. Getting off the couch, away from our blackberries and TVs and outside to appreciate our parks, local woods and green space is a worthy endeavor. Saturday, September 24th is National Public Lands Day. This event is celebrated annually and was conceived of by the National Environmental Education Foundation. EPA is one many sponsoring agencies. Volunteer to plant a tree and bring along your camera to capture the fun of digging in the dirt.

You can enter the Volunteers in Action Photo Contest.

Plant a tree. Dig the Earth! She will thank you.

About the author: Kathy Sykes began working for the U.S. EPA in 1998. Since 2002, she has served as the Senior Advisor for the Aging Initiative.

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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Safe Use of Pesticides and Alternatives to Pesticides

By Alex Gorsky

Growing up, I spent a majority of my time playing outside. On the weekends, my parents would join me in their garden. Sometimes they would spray pesticides on the garden and tell my friends and me to stay away. They didn’t tell me then, but if you do get exposed to pesticides you can have headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, and nausea. Long-term or excessive exposure has been linked to cancer and reproductive & central nervous system effects. In the United States, eight out of ten households use pesticides both inside and outside of their homes.

Grandparents play a key role in keeping children safe by placing pesticides out of reach. Emergency room surveys suggest that children are more likely to be poisoned while visiting their grandparents, since pesticides and other poisons are less likely to be out of reach or have child-resistant closures.
Pesticides are not just dangerous for children. While older adults only account for 2.8% of reported poisoning incidents, they account for 5.9% of all cases with moderate to major medical outcomes and 28% of deaths.

There are some easy ways to reduce your exposure to pesticide hazards. The best guide for safe use of pesticides is to read the label. The label will have instructions for proper use of the pesticide, as well as tell how long you should stay away from the area. Another way to easily protect yourself is by never using pesticide containers to store other things. Once a container is empty, give the container to your community’s disposal program. They can properly dispose of the hazardous waste. Furthermore, avoid treating entire floors, walls or ceilings, and avoid spraying where you prepare or store your food.

To avoid getting overexposed to pesticides, the EPA recommends using a pest management strategy called “integrated pest management” or (IPM). IPM combines non-chemical control strategies with less toxic pesticide to minimize the risk to human health and the environment. For example, you can use traps or baits instead of sprays to control pests. By doing this, you can control pests while not causing harm to humans or the environment.

About the author: Alex Gorsky is an intern in the Office of Public Engagement at the EPA. He is a senior at Beloit College majoring in Environmental Studies.

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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Roots of Success

plantmoreplantsWe’re all part of the solution.

That was one of the messages at this week’s gathering of state and federal leaders coordinating the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and its vast watershed.

On the agenda at the Chesapeake Executive Council’s annual meeting on Monday were updates on the “pollution diet” for the Bay watershed and the first set of two-year milestones of cleanup activity.

But the theme of the high-level meeting was how you and I can help in the restoration effort.

One of the initiatives showcased was the Chesapeake Bay Program’s “Plant More Plants” campaign.

The campaign encourages us to plant native trees, shrubs and perennials to help slow down and filter the rain water that charges from our roofs, driveways and sidewalks during a storm.  Unrestrained, that rain water picks up fertilizers, dirt, oil and other contaminants as it rushes into storm sewers and out into our favorite streams and rivers.  The pollution not only affects our local waters, it eventually creates problems downstream in big bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay.

The Plant More Plants website offers free, downloadable landscaping plans as well as tip sheets for watering, fertilizing and mowing with conservation goals in mind.  They’ve also got a blog that we really dig.

So grab your trowels and shovels, put on your gardening gloves and pitch in to improve water quality.  Your lawn and your local stream will thank you.

And share with us your best tips on good gardening!

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.

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The 12 Square Feet Classroom

Late summer has become my favorite time of year because of my small 4 x 3 foot backyard garden. This year, I harvested patty pan squash, hot peppers, and three kinds of tomatoes. There is no competition for me when it comes to my own homegrown foods versus the store varieties. It takes some effort o maintain this garden but it is worth it for me.

My garden planning starts in May. Each year the biology department at my school sells tiny little seedlings that are grown in the greenhouse over the winter. The weather in Chicago doesn’t allow me to plant these seedlings outside for another month, so I find a sunny window, water the seeds, and wait. Come June, I get a bag of mushroom compost and plant my little garden. I watch and wait throughout June, July, and the beginning of August…and then finally it’s time! The tomatoes turn red and the squash turn yellow and I get the pleasure of the harvest.

This backyard garden makes me feel like a kid. I experiment with the plants to find out what species work in my garden. I investigate different types of soil to use. I check in on the garden each day, to watch the plants grow, then flower, and finally produce fruit. It is my outdoor classroom, a place where I feel empowered. My garden keeps me engaged all summer long and allows me to combine my indoor computer research with learning in an outdoor classroom.

The backyard garden doesn’t just benefit me…my backyard garden, no matter how large or how small, teaches my family responsibility, discipline, and patience. It provides me a sense of accomplishment and independence. Finally, it teaches me about the natural environment…even it is only on 12 square feet of land.

About the author: Erin Jones is an Intern at EPA Region 5 in Chicago, IL

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.

April is Gardening Month

After the winter storms, it’s truly a wonder to see how Mother Nature comes to life during springtime. As the hours of sunlight get longer and temperatures get warmer, you see the first signs of spring in sprouting bulbs such as daffodils and early bloomers like forsythia bushes. Hints of color interrupt the gray outdoors practically overnight. Chirping birds and singing frogs also contribute to the awakening of the new season.

I confess that my backyard is a sorry sight nowadays. The trees survived the wintry onslaught, but the bushes and perennials did not fare as well. The garden will need some major care that will span several weeks maybe even months. Even though I do not have a green thumb, the time invested in gardening definitely will be rewarding on the personal and environmental level.

Since April is gardening month, it’s a nice time to roll up your sleeves and have fun planting in your back yard. Here are some green tips to take care of your garden with minimal use of chemicals. Selecting native plants is also a way to reduce the need for chemicals to control pests and use water efficiently. You might have to go to the Web to identify nurseries in your area that sell native plants or visit USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for state/territory specific information. Simple actions can go a long way to protect the environment.

Another “tradition” that I have tried to adopt at home has been to plant a tree on Earth Day. Our Earth Day trees have survived in spite of the winter storms this year. If you don’t have a back yard to plant a tree, maybe you can buy a good house plant for your apartment. Every environment counts—whether indoors or the great outdoors.

Are you planning anything special to revamp your garden this month?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Question of the Week: What kind of gardening plans have you made this year?

What kind of gardening plans have you made this year?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? The warm weather is coming our way and our thoughts are turning to the great outdoors. Many of us will be planning and planting a vegetable or flower gardens or both, or even an herb garden in a balcony window box. Are you? Your name may not be Mary, but we’d still like to know. During your planning stages, don’t forget to set aside room for composting, it can really make a difference!

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué tipo de planes de jardinería tiene para este año?

Las temperaturas cálidas se avecinan y fijamos nuestra atención en las actividades al aire libre. Muchos de nosotros estaremos planificando para sembrar legumbres en el huerto o jardines de flores, o quizás tener tiestos con hierbas aromáticas en el balcón. ¿Y usted? ¿En qué está pensando en esta temporada? Nos encantaría saber. Durante la etapa de planificación, no se olvide de dejar un espacio para hacer compostaje ya que puede hacer una gran diferencia!

¿Qué tipo de planes de jardinería tiene para este año?

Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

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.