In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

How to Give Your Yard an Eco-Friendly Makeover

yard landscape
Photo via Unsplash

Lately, since eco-friendliness has infiltrated every aspect of our lives—interior design, in particular—it is important to remember that “green” starts outside, and that first we have to pay attention to our yards. Keeping your backyard green is not only about the bright colors or the lush lawn, but also about the way we take care of it, our choice of plants, and other things we use to enhance the appearance of our outdoor space. If you are ready to take on a more eco-conscious approach to landscaping, these tips should help you out.

green grass
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Choose Ground Cover Over Grass

Grassed lawns require frequent mowing, watering and often even using herbicides or pesticides. Ground covers, on the other hand, embrace the ground, join with it, and are low-maintenance. If your lawn is completely exposed to sun, consider going with clover because it stays green even during long droughts and it feels soft and cushiony under the feet. As for the shady areas of your yard, you can use moss because it grows well and stays fresh even when not exposed to sun.

variety of potted plants on porch
Photo via Unsplash

Plant Native Plants

We would all like to have some nice, exotic plants in our backyards. But unless you are living in a climate that supports such plants, you will have to use a lot of pesticides and herbicides to help them grow. Native plants are not so demanding in terms of maintenance because they are accustomed to the local climate. Plus, they can be very beneficial for the environment because they attract butterflies and birds.

Use Organic Mulch

Organic mulch, such as leaves, pine, bark, and wood chips, can retain moisture and regulate the soil temperature, which contributes to plants’ growth and health. It also adds nutrients to the soil and reduces the footprint of the lawn. If you have a grass lawn, this is also useful because it can cut down water usage for up to 50 percent, reducing the need for maintenance.

sturdy outdoor furniture
Photo via Unsplash

Find Appropriate Furniture

If you want to make your yard truly green, opt for quality garden furniture because poor-quality furniture pieces have a much shorter lifespan, which means you’ll have to replace them often. Wood and aluminum are great choices, but they are not very weather-resistant. Consider using high-performance synthetic wicker and coated aluminum which are rust- and UV-resistant. These pieces also look great, so you won’t have to compromise on stylishness. Furniture made of recycled materials or repurposed furniture is also eco-friendly, you just need to make sure it is outdoor-friendly.

Energy-Efficient Lighting

Night lights are a great choice for yards, especially if you like to spend your evenings outdoors. However, they use up a lot of electricity which doesn’t make them very green. Because of that, you should choose solar-powered lights. These lights come in a number of styles and they don’t require extension cords and wires.

wood decking with leaves
Photo via Unsplash

A Deck That Lasts for Ages

No one likes to look at a worn-out deck, which is why homeowners often decide to replace it with a new one. However, new decking requires more trees to be cut down, which is not in accordance with the green approach we are aspiring to. Because of that, you should choose a decking material that ages well, such as clear redwood. Poured concrete is another great solution if you want an eco-friendly, durable deck.

water on plant leaves
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Rationalize the Water Use

Watering the plants accounts for a large part of the household’s total water consumption. Here are a few tips that will help you reduce your water use:

• Group the plants based on their watering requirements.
• Use sprinklers with a controller that changes the watering schedule based on the weather.
• Set up a rainwater harvesting system and use that water for watering plants.

There is no green like natural green. Use these tips to turn your yard into an eco-friendly oasis you will actually enjoy spending time in.

Cure What Ails You: Start A Medicinal Garden

Prescription medicines can be powerful allies in your quest for a long life, but did you know that there is a wealth of healing to be found in your garden? From the aloe that soothes your burns to the capsaicin in peppers that clears your sinuses, you can grow a host of remedies at your fingertips.


One of the most common health afflictions is inflammation; in our joints, our cardiovascular system, even our organs. Inflammation begins as a complex biological response to cell damage, or infection, but can be harmful when it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation can occur everywhere in the body, and plenty of research indicates that it is a common trigger for, and contributor to, multiple chronic diseases. For example, excess inflammation in your system can damage blood vessel linings (in atherosclerosis), pancreatic tissue (in diabetes), and joint tissue (in arthritis).


The good news? There are foods that can help reduce inflammation in the body and can be grown in your vegetable garden. Think dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard, kale, and broccoli. Root vegetables like beets, garlic, and onions are also good choices. All are considered natural anti-inflammatories. For those fitness types, brew a cup of lemon verbena tea before your next workout. Not only will it calm the nerves and lessen anxiety, but it has been shown in a study by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition to reduce joint pain and aching, reducing recovery times for joint-related injuries. Plus, its specific mix of compounds can reduce your hunger cravings and increase your body’s fat-burning ability, helping you shed those unwanted pounds you’re trying to work off!

Stomach Troubles

Many of us experience stomach woes, immediately causing us to reach for the anti-nausea medicine. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for the taste of most indigestion medicines. Too chalky, too yucky. If you’re like me and would rather forgo the medicine cabinet when your belly aches, turn to your herb garden instead. A nibble of basil will work wonders to appease your upset, as will ginger.


If you’re battling a stomach ulcer, try cabbage juice. Studies have shown that cabbage juice has dietary factors that produce rapid healing results in patients with peptic ulcers versus those treated by standard therapy, not to mention it tastes great!

Mental and Emotional

Ever need a mental boost after a long day (or long night)? Look no further than rosemary. Simply brush your hands through its leaves and inhale. Neurons will immediately perk up and start firing on all cylinders. Even better, rosemary prevents forgetfulness. Important for that special date you don’t want to miss. And while you’re there, don’t forget to discreetly chew that sprig of parsley on your plate. Parsley is nature’s breath freshener!


As we roll into summer, consider planting pumpkins in your garden. Not only will they please the kids during Halloween, they’ll make for scrumptious pumpkin pie, and their seeds provide ample magnesium—important for your bone and muscle health. Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan which helps ease insomnia. Your body converts tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin, the “relaxing-time-to-go-to-sleep” hormones, thereby making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. The scent of your lavender sachet will enhance this process, but did you know that it’s also a great flea repellent? Now even your pet can benefit from your medicinal garden! And sleep well, too.

Now that you know the secret ingredients to cure what ails you, go ahead and pass the medicine aisle on your next trip to the store and head straight to your home garden, instead. Gardening is a life lived well.

6 Garden Myths: Which Are False and Which Are True?

It can be said that gardening is both a science and an art. There are hard facts and research that cannot be ignored like the perfect fertilizer ingredients per plant, plant spacing, temperature ranges, and soil PH balance. But there’s also “gardening with love” and traditional gardening practices that come from passing down generational knowledge. These gardening myths, or commonly accepted practices/knowledge, might be correlated with results that they didn’t cause. But it’s hard to stop because your garden is thriving, and you don’t want to alter your process.

Regardless, some of these myths aren’t necessary and your garden might do even better without them. The following are six gardening myths you need to know more about.

garden being watered
Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Organic Pesticides are Safe Around People

Organic gardening is ideal, but simply because a bag or bottle says organic does not mean it is safe. Sure, it’s often safer for the environment, easier on plants, and not artificially created, but naturally occurring substances can still be extremely toxic. Rotenone, for example, is a 3-in-1 organic substance working as a pesticide, insecticide, and piscicide. It’s also so toxic to humans and animals that it is banned in several countries.

The point is, organic pesticides are often preferred but organic doesn’t necessarily mean safe—it can still be toxic. So treat organic pesticides with the same care as you would non-organic pesticides.

Don’t Water Your Garden at Mid-Day

Watering your gardening at mid-day is often cited as dangerous because any water droplets which land on plant leaves magnify the sun and cause leaves to burn. Although we see the burns on leaves, magnification isn’t the culprit. The evidence lies in mid-day rain showers that coat plants in water, but they don’t develop burn spots when the sun reappears. Burn spots are actually caused by minerals and salt in the water which do react with the leaves coupled with the sun’s presence.

So, check your water’s purity and water mid-day if you want to. To avoid any chance of leaf-burn due to water impurity or mineral collection on plant leaves, a ground level garden watering system will deliver water to the plants’ base instead of the leaves.

Fertilizer Revives Plants in Poor Health

Additional fertilizer can actually kill plants rather than help if not needed. When a garden is looking wilted and drab, some of us think, “more fertilizer will help because fertilizer is food.” Fertilizer is an additive that can increases plant vitality and growth, but an abundance can be damaging to your garden. If your garden is sickly, your first point of inspection should be any imbalances of sunlight or water. Also, inspect the garden for signs of an invasive pests.

Before adding more fertilizer, look for the underlying causes of your garden’s declining health. Insects, extreme temperatures, excess/lack of water or sunlight, etc. These are the main causes of declining health and can be resolved without more fertilizer.

tomatoes on the vine
Photo by Lewis Wilson on Unsplash

Adding Sugar Sweetens Tomatoes During Growth

Sugar (sweetness in tomatoes) is created through photosynthesis and is not something absorbed through the soil. This practice came from the idea that plants reflect what they absorb in the soil, so sweeter plants can be created with sugared soil. While minerals and moisture are absorbed by roots, they are necessary components for a plant’s growth—not a flavor enhancer.

If you want sweeter tomatoes, choose the right varietal (leafier heirlooms often produce a more flavorful fruit), grow in warm temperatures, ensure your plant gets at least 8 hours of sun, and keep watering at a minimum without causing detriment to the plant.

15 Minutes of Water Daily for a Garden to Flourish

Watering your garden for 15 minutes everyday will almost assuredly drown your plants and doesn’t take into account the method of water: drip lines can run for hours to sufficiently water, and a Garden Grid ™ watering system can run for a few minutes. Watering isn’t based on time; it’s based on what your garden needs. Truly, it’s that easy. Instead of erroneously watering with a vague amount, use an irrigation system that waters plants at soil level throughout the garden. As a good rule of thumb (or finger in this instance), check the soil moisture daily by pushing your fingers into the soil an inch or so down. If the soil is moist an inch or lower, then your garden is usually hydrated enough. If not, turn on the irrigation system and re-hydrate the soil. The best time of day to check your soil moisture is in the morning.

Gardens can go a few days without water depending on the weather, climate and what you’re growing, so check your garden before watering.

Beer Traps Protect Against Slugs

This one is actually true! To end with a gardening myth that works, slugs do love beer (well, technically the yeast present in it). If you have slug-troubles, fill some containers with beer you’re not afraid to sacrifice and place them around your garden. On their way to ruin your garden, slugs can’t help but stop for a drink. Slugs prefer lighter (lower alcohol) beer, but refill the containers when it rains. They won’t go for watery libations.


3 Reasons Most Gardens Fail (and How to Avoid It!)

Now that you’ve decided to set out on this adventure called gardening, let me give you a few words of advice. First, remember that plants grow all by themselves in nature. They really don’t need you. You need them. The reason I bring this up is because whenever I ask someone if they’d like to start a garden, their first response is usually the same. “Oh, I’d love to have a garden, but I have a brown thumb.”


Like I said, plants really don’t need you to grow. Proof-positive: This tomato plant popped up in my garden without my help! So relax. Green thumb not required for this endeavor. The second response usually runs along the line of “I have no time.” Well, I’m here to tell you that gardens don’t require a lot of YOUR time. They simply require water and sunlight. Remember, plants can grow all by themselves. Do you see a pattern, here?

Your biggest decision when it comes to maintaining a garden is location. Should you grow your plants outside in the soil, in containers on the patio, or in hydroponic towers? Would you prefer a sprawling garden across your lawn, or perhaps one more vertical in nature? Answer these questions, and then you can begin to address the pitfalls.

Live Your Garden

What do I mean by “live your garden?” Simple. Incorporate the pleasure of gardening into your everyday lifestyle. Consider me. I’m a morning person. I love my coffee and I love the sounds of birds chirping away as sunlight breaks over the horizon. To me, there’s nothing more relaxing then a stroll through my garden, coffee in hand, as I gaze over the beautiful beds of green. While I’m there, I might pinch a tomato sucker, pull a spotted leaf from a potato plant, or pluck a pesky little caterpillar from a stem, should I spot one.

Nothing arduous, nothing time-consuming. Simply a pleasant stroll through my garden where tasks are easily managed. No sweat, no stress. No putting off the grueling garden chores that have piled up and await me. Instead, I “live my garden” by visiting every day. Even the occasional weed is no trouble when it’s only one, here and there. You see, a garden is no-fuss when it becomes an enjoyable part of your schedule. Not a bad place for meditation, either!

Grow What You’ll Eat

When your garden hits full splendor, you’ll adore every minute spent among the fruits and leaves while you’re living your garden—unless they’re rotting on the vine. Yuck. Not the place you want to be. There’s no bigger turn-off than the sight of gaping holes in your fruit beset with worms or buzzing flies. Granted, harvest is usually the time everyone wants to be in the garden. But if no one wants to harvest what’s in season?


Fruit will rot. Broccoli will bolt. Weeds will accumulate. You get the picture and it’s not pretty. It’s a quick way to ruin the thrill of gardening, if you ask me, so be prudent during the seed selection process. Choose to grow only what you or your family will eat. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to grow zucchini. It’s super easy! But can you eat it all? Do you have the space to freeze it? If not, you’ll quickly find your friends and neighbors rolling up their car windows and closing their curtains when they see you approach. “No more zucchini, please. We can’t eat another bite!”

Get Down and Dirty

“It’s all about the soil.” You’ve probably heard this before, perhaps even been advised to have your soil tested for pH and the like. I don’t know about you, but chemistry isn’t my strong suit. Test my soil? Amend it for the proper balance of pH and nutrients? Sounds a bit too complicated. I just wanted to garden, not become a scientific expert on dirt.


Good news! You don’t have to be an expert on soil. You simply need to know that healthy soil means healthy plants. What defines healthy soil? Organic matter, or what I call, compost. Yep. Basically, it’s plant and animal matter in varying stages of decomposition and let me tell you, my compost pile is amazing when it comes to growing plants. Why, all I do is toss in a few vegetable scraps, seeds attached, and poof. Germination. Abundant green growth. And I don’t even have to water! Great soil retains water and feeds the plants. Win-win. Don’t have a compost pile? No worries. Until you do, you can purchase any combination of organic compost, mushroom compost, composted cow and worm manure, peat moss and your plants will thank you.

 Now that it’s spring, go ahead and start that garden you’ve always wanted. This time, you will succeed.

A Quick Guide to Spring Gardening

The sun is out and the snow has melted. You’re ready to kick your garden back into shape after the long winter months. Truth be told, it needs a bit of TLC before you can begin to plant. Dust off your gardening gloves, and get to work. Here are some quick tips for whipping your spring garden into shape.

flowers in spring yard at dusk
Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash

1. Survey the Yard

Take a good inventory of your yard’s current condition. How are things looking? Are things missing? Order any tools or equipment you might need, and make note of tree limbs that should be removed. Cut down any unsightly or dying foliage, and compost it. Mend any broken fences, pathways, or outbuildings.

2. Remove Any Debris

Now is the time to clean out your garden, especially your raised beds and other areas that tend to collect debris. Remove any piles of leftover snow, as well as any dead leaves. Weed to the best of your ability, and be sure to pick up any old sticks or branches that blew into your yard over the winter months.

3. Perform Any Necessary Maintenance on Your Tools

Even though gardening can be just a hobby, it can still lead to injury or illness if you're not careful. By keeping your tools in top shape and wearing appropriate attire you’ll be staying safe in your garden and preparing for a great season. Make sure your garden tools are sharpened, and you have checked the spark plugs, air filter, and oil on your lawn mower. Although you can start this task earlier in the winter if you have some spare time, make sure you tune up any of your equipment before the weather clears. 

4. Feed the Soil

Now is the time to add any nutrients to your soil. Compost or fresh manure are great additions, as long as you provide plenty of time for them to cook down into the soil (this is especially the case if you are adding manure that hasn’t had time to break down yet). You can add other fertilizers to see what nutrients are lacking.

If you’re unsure of your soil’s fertility and composition, don't be afraid to take a quick sample and run it through a home soil-test kit, or drop it off at the local cooperative extension. You might also consider aerating the soil if it especially compacted, although this task is best performed in the fall.

If you haven't already, now is also an excellent time to start a compost pile. Buy a bin or start one right on the ground, but keep it far enough away from your house that you won’t notice it if it starts to smell. Add plant debris as you remove it from the garden, as well as any dead leaves. You can add kitchen scraps as well. This will provide rich, nutritious homemade fertilizer within just a few short months.

5. Trim Perennials

Any plants that made it through the rough winter months should be fertilized and pruned. Wait until the threat of another frost has passed, and then prune right after flowering plants have bloomed. Prune summer-blooming plants in the early spring, as soon as you are able.

6. Plant New Flowers

Once you have cleared your beds and garden of any remaining debris or weeds, start planting your new additions. While planting perennials is a good way to cut down on our workload in future years, consider adding a few annuals to add some pops of color now.

7. Mulch

Re-mulch any flower beds or garden areas that need to be mulched. Mulch helps cut down on weeds and to conserve moisture. It also helps to moderate the temperature of the soil, meaning that you can warm the soil prematurely so you can get your seeds into the ground more quickly. If you aren’t concerned about appearances, consider laying down a sheet of black plastic to help accelerate the thaw.

8. Transplant Seeds

If you started seeds inside, now is the time to begin hardening them off and preparing them for their upcoming transplant into the garden. If you didn’t start seeds inside, now might be the time to consider doing so (especially if you live in an area with a late spring, and you still have feet of snow on the ground). When you are ready to start transplanting, make sure you harden them off first. Put them outside during the day, and bring them back in at night. This will help acclimate them to the slightly cooler outside air and help to prevent transplant shock and death.

9. Prepare for Mowing

You don’t need to start mowing your lawn as soon as the snow has melted. However, in addition to making sure all of your equipment is in good working order, you should also clear the lawn of debris and fill the mower with both oil and gas.

10. Don’t Forget to Stay on Top of Your Regular Tasks

Although it can be easy to become caught up in the flurry of new springtime gardening tasks, don’t forget that any existing plants you have still need to be cared for. Deadhead any plants that have already begun to flower (or those that still have remnants left over from last fall) and be sure you are providing your plants with ample water. Prune flowering shrubs and make sure you are monitoring your lawn for growth so that you are ready to mow it once it has reached a few inches in height.

And remember—summer will be here before we know it!

Prevent Blossom-End Rot in Less Than 2 Minutes

Have you ever planted tomatoes in your garden, lovingly cared for the little darlings and followed their growing instructions to the “T” only to have your hopes for a beautiful ruby-red harvest dashed by the unsightly appearance of rotten spots on your fruit? Large, ugly spots, that left unchecked, could entirely engulf your tomato.


It happens. And trust me, it’s a sad day when you visit your garden and discover there are holes permeating your tomatoes. It’s called blossom-end rot and afflicts many a garden. Unfortunately, this affliction is not limited to those gorgeous tomatoes you’ve been fawning over, but cucumbers, squash, peppers, even melons are susceptible. Ugh. Not good news. But what can you do? You did everything in your power to prevent it, right?

Maybe not everything. After years of distressing over this problem, I discovered that it’s preventable and the solution is easy. Blossom-end rot is not a fungus, as it appeared to me, but a nutrient deficiency; specifically, calcium. Granted, wet conditions can exacerbate the problem, as can the levels of nitrogen, salt, and pH in the soil, but they are not the cause. The plant’s inability to absorb calcium is the real culprit.

What’s the secret to eliminating those disfiguring spots?

Epsom salts and eggshells. It’s a combination that I’ve used for several years now and can personally attest to its efficacy. Now, I realize that many gardening sources will suggest that the solution is solely about calcium, but from my experience, simply adding the calcium alone to my plants did not solve the problem. However, when I combined a teaspoon of Epsom salts with 1-2 crushed eggshells, sprinkled the mix around the base of my baby tomato plant as I gently transplanted it into my outdoor garden, I haven’t had an issue since. Not once. Ever.


Experience speaks volumes. I’m not saying to ignore the other factors that lead to a tomato plant’s good health. Quite the contrary. Consistent moisture is key when it comes to a thriving tomato plant, as is the proper balance of pH and nutrients, and an ideal growing climate. Tomatoes like it warm. They prefer a heavier regimen of water during their early growth stage and appreciate a draw back during harvest time. Nitrogen is important, but too much will yield lots of beautiful green leaves, without so much beautiful fruit.

Nutrients for Success

As for macronutrients (the N-P-K listed on your fertilizer labels), phosphorous is the nutrient you’ll want to keep on tap for your tomatoes. In fact, it’s important for all fruit bearing plants, and of course, calcium. If you don’t want to use eggshells for your calcium, bone meal is a wonderful option because it combines calcium and phosphorous in one feeding. I do love a multi-tasker!


For me, the Epsom salts and eggshells solved my blossom-end rot problem. Completely. Lesson learned. Mission accomplished. Better yet, interplant basil with your tomatoes and you’ll discover an even more delicious tomato! It’s called companion planting and works wonders in your garden. Other good companions for tomatoes include: bush beans, cabbage, carrots, onions, and parsley. Happy gardening!

Black Sage: A Sage of Consequence

Black sage is an herb of consequence that grows in country of consequential beauty – the California coast.  It grows freely on the most conspicuous of sites.  Along Route 46 not far from Hearst Castle, where the green hillsides lead to the blue ocean and the imposing outline of Morro Rock, it flowers in a thousand tourist photo foregrounds.  For the native Chumash of this territory and current lovers of the earth, black sage is a health ally.

black sage near hearst castle
Photo by Bill Rozday

Black sage (Salvia mellifera) is native to the California coastal zone from San Jose to the Mexican border.  After flowering season, its stems become tough and black; hence, black sage.  Look for it anywhere from sea level to over 3,000 feet.  It is one of 17 sage species that colonize the state and is distributed widely enough that ecologists use it as an air quality indicator.

The Chumash Indian territory encompasses black sage range, and this people employed it as an herbal soak to ease foot pain after long hikes.  Modern research affirms anti-inflammatory compounds such as ursolic acid and diterpenoids in its foliage.

Today, black sage has entered our culture as a significant food.  It grows in the form of dense bushes, which produce a profusion of blossoms that help sustain a large honeybee population.  The honey they produce is considered the finest in the world, with a clear color and mild flavor.

This mild flavor, together with the trait of a long shelf life due to non-crystallizing properties, carries occasional honey samplers into the category of regular users.  Its clarity and pure sweetness make it a sugar alternative of choice.  Its non-crystallizing quality is a fortunate one, since black sage tends to produce honey only once every three years and the bees have it as a food source in the long spells between heavy blooms.

Black sage blooms in April, but the fragrance of the leaves identifies it in other seasons.  The oil responsible for its aroma allows it to endure the dry California climate.  It also makes the leaves suitable for gourmet chicken dishes, says native plant expert Penny Nyunt of Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita.

black sage on big sur coast
Photo by Bill Rozday

This sage colonizes a second high-profile habitat at McWay Falls, a noted attraction featuring a waterfall dropping onto a Pacific beach.  It grows along the popular footpath that hosts untold thousands of photos of the falls and adjacent sandy cove.  McWay Falls is situated south of Monterey, along the Big Sur coast.

For a learning experience with black sage, visit Las Pilitas Nursery. The nursery and informal nature center offers the plant for sale.  It also grows wild on the adjoining property, which features acorn woodpeckers in a virgin live oak grove, western bluebirds, and occasional visits from a black bear seeking fruit from an ornamental apple tree.

Look for Bill Rozday’s High Ground Books at Virgin Pines Press.

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