June 2010: Green Scene


 Hello, summer

A bounty of pleasant garden tasks spills out of June’s bosomy embrace. Enjoy it before the hellish days of July have us scurrying for the slightest bit of shade. 

Cut grass no shorter than two to three inches so that it can sustain itself without chemical treatments.

If you like careful, fussy chores, pick off old rhododendron blooms just above the tender new shoots. This will neaten the shrub and help set up fat healthy buds for next year. Set the sun dial at noon on the 15th.

Wearing a picturesque sun hat with a simple basket tucked over your forearm, you may deadhead roses back to an outward facing leaflet and snip the fading blossoms of phlox, salvia and Shasta daisies to keep them vigorous and blooming through the season. It’s only annuals like lantana and impatiens that bloom their hearts out with little effort on our part. Perennials need grooming.

Lifting daffodils is not as glamorous, but if you’re in the mood for more vigorous garden action and like to dig in the dirt, now’s the time. Perhaps large clumps could use dividing, or patches that bloomed last spring were in the wrong place. Now that the leaves have fallen to the ground and you can still see them, dig them up with a garden fork (less likely to slice than a shovel). Dry them out and spread on trays or store in mesh bags in an airy place. Then plant them this fall amongst hosta, daylily or ornamental grasses that will grow up over them as they fade.

Lush green lawns sprinkled with children and fireflies are among the most pleasant American dreams, and the successful sod master exults in summer twilights. One of the recurring themes of Garden Green’s chemical-dependant lawn care rehab program is to cut the grass high. Do not scalp it.

That close-cutting technique is for putting greens, and they’re using Bermuda grass or Zoysia which doesn’t grow higher than an inch anyway. We homeowners are growing a mixture of tall fescues (creeping red fescues for shade) if we have any sense, and those varieties need two to three inches of growth to sustain themselves.


Deadhead perennials.

Lift old daffodils.

Cut grass high. 

One reason to cut grass high is to allow more leaf surface to make chlorophyll to feed the roots. If you cut off more than one third, you’re starving them. But taller grass is also a way to smother out weeds without herbicides or pre-emergents.  

The shorter the grass, the more weeds are likely to grow because they get more sun. Scott Aker at the National Arboretum reports one mostly crabgrass lawn that turned to fescue when the mowing height was raised to five inches. Now, I know you don’t want to wade through five inches to get to the front door, but just think about it for that lower quarter acre or the far back yard and at least consider three inches for the front.

The evening of the summer solstice (June 21) will be the longest of the year. Watch the fireflies and enjoy your garden. Every day after that will get shorter. Make the most of them.—Cathy Clary


Plarn means plastic yarn


Even if you’ve kicked the disposable bag habit, chances are good that you have a box (or shelf) of pesky plastic bags lying around. Put them to good use and consider making your own plastic yarn, suitable for use in a variety of homey D.I.Y. projects. Do not be scared of this crafty recycling project. Be confident and keep your gradeschool-era paper-chain making skills in mind.

The Internet offers several methods for this, but the one offered by Helle Jorgensen of hellejorgensen.typepad.com is easy and foolproof. Flatten out a clean plastic bag, then fold it in half twice, lengthwise. Cut off the handles and bottom, then cut the remaining plastic along the width to create circle strips. Loop the circular strips through each other to make a knot and keep adding loops to make a double strand of plastic yarn. Add in different colored plastic for a cool effect.

Once you have a decent amount of plastic yarn, crochet or knit whatever you like. We suggest placemats and rugs for yourself or your pets: durable and easily replaceable, guaranteed to be a hit.—Lucy Kim


Deck yourself out

There’s nothing better than a relaxing summer evening with friends on the patio enjoying great music and great food. This month, Betty reveals eco-friendly ways to make your deck the in place to party outside.


Invite nature-lovers—like butterflies and birds—to your patio party with strategically planted butterfly bushes and bee balm. Find drought-resistant plants grown locally at the farmer’s market or area nurseries. Recycled glass bird-feeders are decorative and eco-minded, or make your own using a cardboard milk carton covered with a collage of old magazines and newspapers.

Lighting sets the mood. I like to get creative with candles: Mason jars filled with soy candles surrounding the edge of your patio offer a natural glow. Solar-powered lights create enchanting illuminated pathways. Energy-efficient options would be outdoor LED or motion sensor lights.

Of course your guests need comfy places to sit, so how about upcycling a great yard sale find (an old wicker chair or paint-peeling patio set) into a patio treasure with a quick new spray low-VOC paint job? Or you could splurge on a pair of Adirondack chairs made of recycled milk jugs, available at the Blue Ridge Eco Shop in a variety of joyful colors ($275; see p. 10).

If you have a wooden deck, a soy-based, zero-VOC deck stain (Velvet CDF, for example) seals the wood for 10 years’ worth of outdoor fun.

Finally, to avoid pesky mosquitoes, spray your patio area with a natural and locally made insect repellent: St. Gabriel’s, which lasts four weeks. Scented citronella candles are another good solution.—Better World Betty

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at www.betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.


Homeowners, start your engines!

It’s another great LEAP forward. The Local Energy Alliance Program, a city-county initiative that helps folks increase their houses’ energy efficiency, will be running a home energy makeover contest this summer. You can win up to $10,000 worth of upgrades to your house.

How to be a winner? The first step is to enroll in the contest, which you can do starting in the middle of this summer. The winning house will be chosen not by random drawing, but based on analysis of how much energy could be saved per square foot. LEAP will be looking for a house that can demonstrate dramatic savings. If yours is chosen, upgrades should be done before the weather gets chilly again in fall.

Keep an eye on homeenergymakeover.org/Charlottesville for the details.—Erika Howsare

City market takes cards!


We know you love the Saturday throng at the farmer’s market—strollers and all—but having to remember to bring cash is such a pain. Good news, plastic devotees: You can now use your debit card at the City Market. And there’s more. The Market now takes SNAP food stamps, too.

Both debit card holders and SNAP recipients, here’s the drill—swipe your card at a centrally located debit card machine to receive tokens that you can then use to buy any market wares (if you swiped a debit card) or non-prepared foods (if you swiped a SNAP card). SNAP recipients can also get extra tokens for up to $10 through a grant from Wholesome Wave Foundation.

Think of it as another reason to get there early: We’re guessing the card machine will have kind of a long line.—E.H.