Tag Archives: horticulture

Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Lawns are green in color only, and the odds are good that you’re sick of mowing. You could save time by ignoring lawncare myths, and there are ways to reduce the water and energy you waste on your lawn, but even the most eco-friendly lawn is still a lawn.

Here are some tips for reducing the amount of the lawn in your yard even if you’re not an avid gardener.


There’s a good chance that you have at least a few trees and bushes planted around the edges of your lawn. Add to the existing woody plants in your yard to create deep shrub borders. Plant native species and mulch them all the way to the drip line to reduce the need for water and protect trunks from lawnmower damage. Once established, native shrub borders can survive without supplemental water most years, and need pruning no more than once a year.

Berry Beds

Fill a raised bed that gets plenty of sun with blackberries and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. Image: pixel2013, Pixabay

Raised beds create a sense of structure in the landscape that looks tidier than shrub borders. They also keep cane berries like raspberry and blackberry from spreading.

Filled with flowers or vegetables, raised beds can be just as much work as lawn. But filled with berries, all they need is sun and water and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. But don’t be surprised if you get inspired to take up beekeeping to keep those harvests going.

Unmown Grasses

Ornamental grasses like this pink muhly require minimal care. Image: paulbr75, Pixabay

Lawn grass is not the only kind of grass, in fact, it is one of the least interesting or useful forms.

Ornamental grasses can be used to create sophisticated planting designs or to recreate native prairie. If you choose native species, you can free yourself from both watering and mowing, so you’ll have plenty of free time to sit back and enjoy the butterflies and other wildlife attracted to your certified wildlife habitat.

But research horticultural varieties before planting — many ornamental grasses are invasive species. If a grass doesn’t belong in your region, don’t plant it.

Ground Covers

Sempervivum, a succulent commonly known as “hens and chicks” is just one of many resilient ground covers. Image: Hans, Pixabay

There are probably areas of your lawn that don’t get very much — if any — foot traffic. For those areas, other ground covers may be more appropriate than grass, especially in shady areas. As with grasses, many ground covers can be invasive. Consider native plants like kinnikinnick or wild ginger — find out what grows in your region.

Few ground covers are as hardy as lawn grass. But clover, herbs like creeping thyme, and even moss can tolerate some foot traffic. The benefit, though, is groundcover that requires relatively little water compared to the traditional lawn.

Unplanted Areas

Although permeable pavers can reduce the amount of grass you have to deal with while still allowing rainwater to drain through the gaps, an entirely paved yard is probably too much. Gravel, on the other hand, can be a lawn substitute without making your yard look built over. Combining large areas of gravel broken up with a few drought-tolerant plants is best suited to dry climates and desert landscapes.

There’s no need to rip out your entire lawn if you don’t want to. But you can save time, energy, and water by reducing the area of your lawn. Try one or more of these strategies to chip away at the edges of your lawn. You might find yourself with a prettier yard and more time to enjoy it.


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Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Guinness and Other Brewers Get Greener Packaging

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Green beer used to be a St. Patrick’s Day gimmick, but a sustainability movement seems to be taking off in the beer packaging industry.

Diageo, the manufacturer of St. Patrick’s Day favorite, Guinness, announced in April that they will eliminate plastic from their beer packaging. In the two months since the Guinness announcement, the brewer of Mexican beer Corona has introduced a new can that doesn’t require plastic ring carriers.

Plastic-Free Guinness

This isn’t the first time Guinness has tried something revolutionary. They were the first brewer to establish a scientific research lab, which led to the use of nitrogenation in beer. Now, beverage distributor Diageo has poured $21 million into a plastic-free packaging program. Diageo also owns the Harp and Smithwicks breweries. It will eliminate plastic packaging from those brands as well.

Plastic currently accounts for only about five percent of Guinness’ packaging. But by replacing plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap with 100 percent biodegradable or recyclable cardboard, the company will eliminate the equivalent of 40 million plastic bottles worth of waste annually.

Diageo’s announcement promised to roll out the new sustainable beer packs in Ireland by August 2019 and expand to international markets by summer 2020. But some American consumers can already take advantage of the company’s changing direction.

In May, Guinness’ Baltimore-brewed limited release canned multipacks switched to eco-friendly carriers. These carriers are made from compostable waste materials and are themselves fully compostable and biodegradable.

Plastic-Free Corona

If you’re not a Guinness fan, take heart.

Long considered a beer for the beach, Corona was the first beer to be sold in a clear glass bottle. While that packaging innovation was designed to highlight the brew’s clarity, more recent changes have the environment at heart. Through its partnership with Parley for the Oceans, Corona has adopted the A.I.R. strategy to avoid, intercept, and redesign to eliminate plastic pollution.

Corona’s intercept campaigns include attempting to clean 2 million square meters of beach in 23 countries this summer. A promotion in several countries (including the U.S.) will trade three empty PET (#1 plastic) bottles for a bottle of Corona.

Last year, Grupo Modelo, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev and the maker of Corona, ran a pilot program to replace plastic ring carriers with biodegradable ones.

Now, they have taken a different approach to reduce plastic from packaging. Instead of redesigning the secondary packaging, Grupo Modelo chose to redesign the cans themselves. New Corona Fit Packs screw together into stacks of up to 10 cans, eliminating the need for any packaging to hold them together. This is similar to the Carlsberg Group’s new Snap Pack, except that Carlsberg’s cans will rely on an adhesive to join the cans.

See how the Fit Packs fit together in this promotional video:

In a move that could ultimately have more impact than just eliminating their own ring carriers, Grupo Modelo has promised to make its interlocking can designs open source. If they do, any canned beverage company will be able to reduce its impact on the environment without research costs.

Feature image courtesy of DIAGEO


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Guinness and Other Brewers Get Greener Packaging

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Spraying Pesticides May Not Kill Zika Mosquitos

Mother Jones

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In Miami Beach, daily crowds have been gathering outside city hall to protest a program to spray a potent pesticide called naled, in an effort to combat mosquitos carrying the Zika virus. After delays, officials began periodic naled sprayings Friday morning at 5 a.m.

People are concerned about the spraying because like other organophosphates, naled is a neurotoxin, or a poison that works by attacking the nervous system. Even at tiny doses, naled kills adult Aedes mosquitos—which, in parts of Miami, including Miami Beach, are known to carry the Zika virus. In South Carolina last week, aerial spraying of naled inadvertently killed millions of bees.

The EPA reports that naled is regularly sprayed on 16 million acres of land in the mainland United States “as part of routine mosquito control,” including in “highly populated major metropolitan areas.” That’s a lot of land—California, for comparison, occupies 100 million acres.

Here’s what we know about naled, its toxicity to people and ecosystems, and its potential as a tool to limit the spread of Zika.

• Is naled spraying toxic to humans? The European Union banned naled in 2012, citing “potential and unacceptable risk showed for human health.” But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency disagree. The chemical is used at such a low rate as a mosquito spray—about two tablespoons for each area the size of a football field—that it “does not pose a health risk to people or pets in the area that is sprayed,” the CDC says. Also, “Naled starts to degrade (break down) immediately on surfaces, in water, and in sunlight,” the CDC adds, meaning it doesn’t linger after spraying.

I asked Dana Barr, a research professor at Emory who has done extensive research on the ill effects of organophosphate exposure on kids’ neural development, whether people should worry about health effects from spraying. “Likely the small amount sprayed won’t pose significant risk,” she said. Barr added, though, that people who live in sprayed areas “need to consider their exposures from other sources as well,” like through garden insecticides and residues on food. A 2015 study by University of Washington, Harvard, and University of Texas researchers found that people who eat organic food have significantly lower levels of organophosphate traces in their urine than people who don’t.

Barr added that infants and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to harm from organophosphate exposure, and should “take precautions to stay inside during spraying”—which won’t be too hard, since the spraying are scheduled for early mornings (5 a.m.).

• Is spraying naled effective at slowing the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika? This one is surprisingly hard to answer. The CDC stresses it’s just one part of an “integrated mosquito control program” that includes “eliminating mosquito habitats, such as discarded containers and rain gutters” and other actions. But the agency insists that spraying is the “one method that can rapidly reduce the number of mosquitoes spreading Zika in a large area,” like Miami beach.

In a recent editorial in the medical journal JAMA, CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote that a spraying program in New Orleans, similar to the current one in Miami Beach, had reduced both indoor and outdoor adult mosquito populations by 90 percent.

However, the New Orleans figure cited by Friedan comes from an informal study that never underwent peer review, and some experts are skeptical of it. The Aedes mosquito, the variety that hosts Zika and other nasty pathogens, tends to live indoors, making it a tough target for spraying. “I know of no published reports that support Friedan’s figure,” Yale University professor emeritus of microbial diseases Durland Fish told Kaiser Health News. He added: “This is a domestic mosquito, meaning they live inside the house—in closets, under the bed, in the sink. Spraying outside won’t be very effective.”

A recent news report by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Disease Research and Policy also casts doubt of the efficacy of spraying, echoing concerns raised by Fish.

Will the spraying kill other bugs? While Aedes mosquitos live mainly indoors, protected from pesticide droplets falling from the sky, other critters aren’t so lucky. The South Carolina incident demonstrated how vulnerable honeybees are to an ill-timed naled spraying.

And a Florida International University team has published three papers since 2011—in the journals Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Chemosphere—finding that butterflies are even more susceptible to naled than bees. South Florida’s butterfly populations have declined dramatically in recent years. The Florida International University research, funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, prompted South Florida officials to scale back routine naled spraying last year. Butterflies are a key part of the food chain, serving as prey for birds and bats; they’re also important pollinators.

When naled degrades, it turns into another potent organophosphate called dichlorvos, which in turn can linger in water, a 2014 study by University of California at Davis researchers found. Once there, it’s highly toxic to aquatic species at the “low end of the food chain,” including insects and frog larvae, one of the study’s authors, Bryn Phillips, recently told CNN.

So while people probably don’t have much to fear from naled spraying, bees and butterflies do. As for Zika-carrying mosquitos, the jury is still out.

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Spraying Pesticides May Not Kill Zika Mosquitos

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How to make an instant garden. From trash.

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A Remote Pacific Nation, Threatened by Rising Seas

Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of the people of tiny Kiribati, and even the island nation’s existence. The government is making plans for the island’s demise. Read more:  A Remote Pacific Nation, Threatened by Rising Seas ; ; ;

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A Remote Pacific Nation, Threatened by Rising Seas

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Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore Explore Climate Change, Life in a Naval Observatory and More

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore talk about climate change activism, the “GoreSat” satellite, “spider goats” and paths to abundant clean energy. View original:  Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore Explore Climate Change, Life in a Naval Observatory and More ; ; ;

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Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore Explore Climate Change, Life in a Naval Observatory and More

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The Rising Murder Count of Environmental Activists

A new report by Global Witness puts last year’s death toll at 185, a sharp increase, with Brazil leading the way. Continued:   The Rising Murder Count of Environmental Activists ; ; ;

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The Rising Murder Count of Environmental Activists

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Unplugging the Colorado River

Could the end be near for one of the West’s biggest dams? Taken from: Unplugging the Colorado River ; ; ;

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Unplugging the Colorado River

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Dot Earth Blog: Butterflies for Ted Cruz, Determined Foe of Ethanol Mandates

Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa may be a victory for butterflies, as well, if it ends political subservience to Big Corn. Link –  Dot Earth Blog: Butterflies for Ted Cruz, Determined Foe of Ethanol Mandates ; ; ;

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Dot Earth Blog: Butterflies for Ted Cruz, Determined Foe of Ethanol Mandates

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Science Just Proved That Donald Trump Is Totally Wrong

This September was the hottest on record. Donald Trump loves to tweet about how climate change is a hoax, especially when he personally feels cold. Because, you know, if global warming is really real, then it will never be cold anywhere ever again. (Just kidding. Winter is still a thing.) He was at it again on Monday, tweeting that since it was “really cold outside,” we “could use a big fat dose of global warming!” Sick burn, Donald! Indeed, it’s been kind of cold on the East Coast over the last week. But, Trump’s local weather report notwithstanding, 2015 is still on track to be the warmest year on record, globally. And today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data showing that this September was the hottest September on record (the records go back to 1880), following an August that also experienced record-breaking heat. Here’s NOAA’s latest map, showing that in September, much of the globe had record or above-average temperatures: NOAA The dark red blob off the US West Coast is El Niño, which is continuing to strengthen and is expected to produce above-average rain and snowfall in California this winter (although probably not enough to end the state’s epic drought). Sorry, Donald. I think we have a big enough dose of global warming already. Originally posted here:  Science Just Proved That Donald Trump Is Totally Wrong ; ; ;


Science Just Proved That Donald Trump Is Totally Wrong

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