April 30, 2013

May landscaping and lawn tips

Lawns: look at April tips (under "Monthly lawn and landscaping calendar") if you missed it last month. The same general advice is on target, especially this year since the weather has been so cool. Remember that bagging grass clippings is just like throwing away fertilizer. Unless it clumps up badly, just leave it on your lawn. And please MOW HIGH to choke out weeds.

Pruning: As soon as possible after the blooms are spent, azaleas and camellias in need of a trim can be pruned. See the Pruning Calendar from Newport News Master Gardens and Virginia Cooperative Extension for all the info you need.

Native barberry bushes can be pruned now too, although the new growth is already budding out. These are hardy plants that do not seem to mind a haircut now and then.

Landscaping: If the garden stores are just too good to ignore, consider native plants that like our hot and humid summers. Click here to see what Master Gardeners recommend.

April 19, 2013

Feeling crabby?

This week has given us many sad moments, beginning with the Boston Marathon bombings and continuing to a virtual lock down in Boston as I write this.

Now it is bad news from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission about the Chesapeake Bay crab population. It seems that is is down dramatically from a year ago. Total crab numbers dropped from about 765 million last year to about 300 million, largely because the number of juvenile crabs fell from nearly 600 million last year – a record high -- to 111 million in 2013.

Why? The water quality doesn't help the crabs, and the underwater grasses have decreased to their lowest level in 25 years, except in the James River. So the baby crabs have fewer hiding places. But the real culprits may be baby drum fish who like crabs as much as I do.

So prepare for fewer crab cakes this summer.

April 14, 2013

Cicadas coming

Hearing aide wearers, be warned! And the rest of us too, because those noisy red-eyed wonders of the insect world are coming.

The 17-year cicadas will be erupting from their long underground lives to attract mates with their loud chirping. Entomologists predict that the Mid-Atlantic region will see these cicadas soon, with Pennsylvania and northern Maryland especially popular. I remember closing the windows in my non-AC classroom in Baltimore County many years ago in order to hear my students.

Virginians will hear the noisy insects too, as well as the sound of crunching under your feet.

But I suppose that they deserve to make a racket since they have been underground since 1996. So get ready for a noisy four to six weeks.

April 6, 2013

Dominion's James River towers could look like these

A few years ago, we sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, through the C&D Canal, then up the Delaware River to Philadelphia on our 36 foot sailboat. A few tense moments occurred as we neared the huge towers on which high voltage power lines were strung across the Delaware River from the Salem nuclear power plant. The navigational charts showed the towers as high enough to handle our sailboat's 60 foot mast, but the wires sagged quite a bit in the middle where the channel was. Obviously I am here to write about it, but we held our breaths a bit as we passed under the wires in this very industrialized section of the Delaware River.

This is what the power line towers across the James River could look like if the Virginia SCC decides to honor Dominion Power's plan. The final five days of hearings begin next Tuesday, April 9. The local media should give them generous coverage since James City County Supervisors as well as Kingmill residents and the local national parks are opposing the location.

High power lines fit into the industrial look of the southern section of the Delaware River just upriver from the Delaware Memorial Bridge, but they will make a not-so-historic statement looming across this pristine and scenic section of the James River.

In case you missed it, another huge transmission line through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian Trail also created a big buzz last year while the court considered claims that the power line would cause irreversible ecological and scenic damage. The National Park Service opposed it big time at first, but strangely approved the supersized transmission line on October 1, 2012, despite their conclusion that the project would cause serious and enduring impacts on the parks. Go figure!

Plastics 101

Confused about those numbers inside the chasing arrows recycling triangles? You are not alone.

Here is a great review of plastic recycling symbols from the helpful folks at Nation of Change:

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Picked up by most curbside recycling programs [locally ONLY in curbside bins if it has a neck], #1 plastic is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. It’s found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles and peanut butter containers. Plastic #1 is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

Plastic #2 is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs [again, locally it is only acceptable in curbside bins if it has a neck]. It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, some shampoo bottles and some detergent bottles.  Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)

Plastic #3 is used to make some shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, plumbing pipes and windows and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs[accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers].  These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don’t cook with or burn this plastic. This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food bags, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it [acceptable locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs [accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. #5 plastic is also one of the safer plastics to look for. It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles. Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. James City County is similar to most recycling programs and won’t accept it. Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups. It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous

All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It includes polycarbonate, which contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a possible hormone disruptors that has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems and other health issues. #7 plastic is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.[It is accepted locally at all three James City County Convenience Centers]. It is commonly recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

April 5, 2013

Virginia now penalizes hybrid car owners (updated 2-14)

Read the small print!

Virginia's recently approved House Bill 2313 sounded friendly at first glance. It had a non-threatening title after all: "Revenues and appropriations of State; changes to revenues collected and distribution."

Keep reading and you'll find that the bill imposes a $64 (originally $100) annual registration fee on hybrid vehicles.

The "thinking" behind this legislation is that green folks driving green cars are paying less in gasoline taxes. Yup, they are using less gasoline. That's the whole point of buying a hybrid or electric car, which by the way is a good bit pricier than a gas guzzler. So the Commonwealth of Virginia already gets more in sales tax when owners buy their green cars.

One estimate by Virginia Clean Cities is that $64 is about four times what a hybrid Civic owner would save in gasoline taxes. So go figure!

2-14 update: Virginia legislators repent and relent. This ridiculous fee will be eliminated in 2014.

April 2, 2013

Solar energy in Virginia is a no show

Wow. Solar energy is growing SO slowly in Virginia.

The Solar Energy Industry Association just announced its ranking of 2012 solar energy installations in the U.S.and Virginia tied for last place. Not really a surprise for us locally because I have seen very few solar panels in our Tidewater area.

 Neighboring states like Maryland and North Carolina ranked in the Top 10. 

I just returned from a trip to Boston and saw more rooftop solar panels there than last year, even though they see less sunshine than Virginians. And the wind turbines in Massachusetts, both offshore and on, put us to shame. 

What do these states have that we lack? Leadership!

Just look at Dominion Power's idea of progress over the next 20 years:
2010:  Fossil Fuels: 59%; Renewables: less than 3%
2030:  Fossil Fuels: 58%; Renewables: less than 6%

So SUPER GREEN KUDOS to the Virginia Living Museum for recently attaching 165 solar panels to their facility. It is now one of the largest nonprofit solar installations in Hampton Roads. I must add that Dominion Power (criticized above) made this possible with a $150,000 grant, along with a donation of $15,000 from Bay Electric Company. So why can't Dominion take some giant energy steps and commit to more solar energy by 2030?

Those dandy solar panels should save the Museum about $5000 in electricity costs in its first year alone.

A novel way to control erosion

A Tangier Island street after Superstorm Sandy in 2012

Historic Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake loses several acres of land every year to erosion. Some islands have already vanished after one too many storm. And now rising sea level and sinking land threaten them.

But one Maryland-based company, Murtech, plans to build 53 experimental buoy systems this year, based on an innovative design tested in the labs of the U.S. Naval Academy to reduce erosion in three locations this year (Virginia's Tangier Island and Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Barren Island).

This summer, the largest buoy, 10 feet in diameter is planned in front of the western entrance to Tangier's harbor. We always sail into the harbor this way and it silts in more each visit. NOT good for the bottom of any boat. Even less beneficial to the crab shacks and piers of watermen.

The buoys will have fins on their sides, and are designed to create interference with the waves and reduce the wave energy. Hopefully, the battered shorelines will benefit, as well as the 470 or so residents of Tangier Island--two thirds of the residents of the '30s..

In addition to the experimental buoy system, the federal and state governments are planning to build a 430-foot-long stone jetty beside the harbor at a cost of about $4.1 million. No visible infrastructure there yet.

If you haven't visited Tangier Island, consider it soon. You can take a fun ferry ride from either Onancock, Virginia or Crisfield, Maryland. Mrs. Crockett's restaurant will fortify you for a walk around this unique island.

GREEN DRINKS in Williamsburg

Green Drinks is a gathering of "green folks" for drinks and conversation, a kind of green networking opportunity. A group formed in Williamsburg, Virginia a few years ago and they aim to revitalize their group.

Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 17th, at Brickhouse Tavern of Williamsburg at 6 p.m. This month’s theme is "Go Outside and Be Earth Friendly!"

Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/28109699976 Krista will update it each Monday of April with ways to get outside and to be more environmentally friendly.

The April meeting will include creating an environmental pledge, as well as developing a list of a few tips to be more environmentally friendly. Afterwards, there will be a rousing environmental trivia game, so don’t forget your thinking cap! Concluding the meeting, for those who are interested, there will be “Sorting the Recyclables Challenge” to test your sorting capabilities and accuracy with only a minute to spare!

Please email Krista  if you can attend. They had a great turn out last month: 24!

Remember, “It isn’t easy being green, but it sure is fun!”

Green for spring cleaning

The words "natural" and "green" don't mean less toxic. Right now, there is no federal law requiring most cleaning products to disclose their ingredients on the labels. Some ingredients that seem healthy, such as botanical oils, can trigger allergies. I know because I have tried a few.

Those helpful folks at Environmental Working Group have some great info  in their Green Cleaning Guide.

Check out EWG's info on laundry products too. The Chesapeake Bay will thank you.

April Landscaping and Lawn Tips, plus controlling bermuda weeds

Finally . . . spring is here! But the weather is still fickle.

TURF: Cool-season grasses such as tall fescue may still look a bit weak, but please refrain from fertilizing—unless you totally missed the three fall applications. The forsythia is already blooming, so it might be a tad late for pre-emergent for crabgrass. But get it down soon and you might be OK. But do not put it down where you need to re-seed any bare spots in your turf.

Warm-season grasses (Bermuda and zoysia) should get a dose of fertilizer now, with another application in May and June.

Then get busy controlling those weeds:
Bermuda weeds remain viable in the soil for 2 years, so you might have a two year fight on your hands. Bermuda can invade our fescue lawns and even our shrub beds during the spring through fall growing season. I am not a fan of lawn chemicals, so my best advice to choke it out Bermuda is to mow higher, allowing your fescue to grow taller—3 1/2 to 4 inches tall is great.

The key is to take action every few weeks throughout the Bermuda grass growing season (that begins NOW) so that you don’t have to do a major “kill and replant” of your tall fescue turf in the fall. The "scorched earth" post-Roundup look in the fall is less than attractive.Roundup is a suspected chemical in the increase of autism and other health challenges.

I really hate to recommend chemicals, but  . . . Early spring is the best time to apply a grass-selective herbicide if you have a lot of bermuda.  Look for herbicides with the active ingredients sethoxydim (Grass Getter) or fluazifop (Ornamec, and Grass-B-Gon). One approach that seems promising is a solution of 50% Ornamec & 50% Turflon Ester (usually at Ace Hardware) mixed according to the label. Some local homeowners have also reported success using Bayer Advanced Bermudagrass Control for Lawns. This attaches to your garden hose. As with all herbicides please read and follow the label directions 

Make the first application in spring when new bermuda growth is less than 6 inches in length, then re-apply the herbicide before the regrowth reaches 6 inches again. Sometimes that is two weeks later. You will get the best results when the bermuda grass has lots of leaf surface and is not drought stressed, dusty, or damaged by insects.

Many folks complain about golf course Bermuda invading their lawns. That's an "urban legend" UNLESS your lawn is adjacent to a golf course and the grass rhizomes spread directly into your yard. Golf course Bermuda is a hybrid sports grass that does not generate seeds. The Bermuda in most of our yards comes from weed seeds.

Landscaping:  It is usually safe to plant shrubs and perennials now, but frost can still occur. Hold off on those annuals for a few more weeks.

Do not cut the foliage off  faded daffodils until they turn brown because the bulbs need that food for next year. Put a marker near any crowded clumps of daffodils now. Then you can divide them and replant in July.

Some herbicides can be used safely around most, but not all, ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers. The product labels include lists of ornamental plants that can be injured by these herbicides. Do not use these herbicides near ornamental grasses and be especially wary around junipers.

As always, read and follow all directions for chemical applications.

For more info, click here for more April tips from 
Newport News Master Gardeners.