Gardening 101: How to Use Eggshells in the Garden

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista.

All winter long I’ve been saving eggshells by simply rinsing them and placing them in an open container where they could dry out. (No, they do not smell. Everyone who comes to my house and sees them asks me this question.)
Above: All winter long I’ve been saving eggshells by simply rinsing them and placing them in an open container where they could dry out. (No, they do not smell. Everyone who comes to my house and sees them asks me this question.) To remove any proteins, spread eggs on a baking sheet on a parchment paper. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bake for 15 minutes.

Now that Easter is over we are inundated with Easter Egg Shells! This is an exciting time for the garden when we have additional resources for growing happy edibles in the Living Lab. At the end of every week when my containers are full, I set to pulverizing them into little bits with wooden spoons, thus compacting the shells so that I can collect more. If you prefer to use a food processor to grind up your egg shells, reduce to a fine powder and store in a mason jar. The finer the particles the easier for your plants to absorb the calcium. Keep adding shells to store throughout the year to use in the spring.


When tilled into the soil, ground eggshells provide your plants with calcium.
Above: When tilled into the soil, ground eggshells provide your plants with calcium.

Though nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are most vital for healthy growth, calcium is also essential for building healthy “bones”—the cell walls of a plant. Composed of calcium carbonate, eggshells are an excellent way to introduce this mineral into the soil. To prep the eggshells, grind with a mixer, grinder, or mortar and pestle and till them into the soil. Because it takes several months for eggshells to break down and be absorbed by a plant’s roots, it is recommended that they be tilled into the soil in fall. More shells can be mixed into your soil in the spring.

By the same token, finely crushed shells mixed with other organic matter at the bottom of a hole will help newly planted plants thrive. (Tomatoes especially love calcium.) For an exciting recycled garden cocktail, try mixing your eggshells with coffee grounds, which are rich in nitrogen.

Finally, eggshells will reduce the acidity of your soil and help to aerate it.

Tips for Eating & Harvesting Dandelions

Image may contain: flower, plant, outdoor and nature

It’s Dandelion Season! Looking for ways to use these healthy greens in your kitchen? Dandelion greens may not be the most popular greens out there but hopefully after this post you’re going to feel informed enough and comfortable enough to go out and give em a try!

Not only are dandelions delicious, they are a nutritional powerhouse! Dandelion greens are a dark, leafy green veggie that are packed with goodness. They are said to be one of the most vitamin packed foods on the planet! They have more fiber, protein, calcium and potassium than any other green out there and they’re rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin A, E and K. Dandelion greens not only support the digestive system but they also reduce swelling and inflammation in the body. Needless to say, they bring a lot to the table.

Like many other light, leafy greens, they peak right at the beginning of Spring and go till about mid Summer. This is when you’re going to get the best flavor, the highest nutritional value, and they can be foraged for FREE!

You’re going to notice that the leaves are fairly irregular and a bit jagged, they look a little bit like an arrow. You want to make sure they are nice and firm and a rich green with no discoloration and no wilting.

Dandelions do tend to be a little bitter by nature but what you’ll find is the smaller the leaf the more mild and tender the flavor. Try to avoid the really big leaves and keep it between small and medium sized.

After foraging for dandelion greens you’ll want to keep them in the refrigerator under the high humidity setting in your veggie drawer, know that they’ll only last a couple of days so you do want to use them shortly after harvesting. Once you’re ready to use your dandelion greens, give them a good rinse in cold water. The bottom of the stems can be a little tough and bitter so trim those off and add to your compost bin.

Chop them off right where the leaf begins. Give the leaves a nice rough chop all the way up. You can either enjoy them raw in a salad or cooked. If you’re going to put them in a salad I would maybe suggest giving the leaves a little nibble first to see how mild or bitter they are. If they are a little bit bitter consider mixing the leaves with a little butter lettuce or a red leaf variety and then build your salad from there.

Dandelion greens really love big, bold, fat flavors so things like blue cheese, goat cheese, nuts and bacon are a perfect fit, be sure to give your greens a little fat love. When it comes to cooking these greens they love to be steamed, sautéed and braised. Again, they love big bold flavors so things like garlic, soy sauce and big, bold vinegars are really going to compliment these greens.

A personal favorite go to that’s really quick is to sauté your dandelion greens in a little bit of olive oil, fresh garlic and a few hits of soy sauce. Let those greens wilt down and finish it off with a big squish of lemon and voila! Quick and simple.

Foraging & Cooking Snails: A Warning

A teenager’s reflection on making Escargot: Farm to Table

Don’t do it.

Disclaimer: 104 snails were re-foraged from every part of the kitchen and our refrigerator. Jackson passed his French Class and I, leaving abruptly, enjoyed a movie, more than one glass of wine, and all the carbs. Snails were treated humanely in the making of this dish.

Jackson Hiatt, French Class circa 2014
Never before have I invested this much time into preparing one dish. Frankly, what respect I had for French cooking has now dwindled to almost nothing. I want to be really clear that this meal isn’t worth the effort, and at times is incredibly revolting. However, snails have proven to be decent escape artists so I’ll grant them worthy of the French since they follow in the footsteps of retreat.

I spent at least an hour gathering snails from gardens, yards, and sidewalks, usually in the rain and at one point in the late evening where I began to have some difficulty. 104 snails later I carried out the process of washing them and placing them in a jar to starve in order to cleanse their systems of any toxins. For two days I watered and cleaned them regularly. After three days I gave them carrots to eat and then starved them for another two days. This process takes a week. By the way, they have to be washed by hand which is not a pleasant activity and is not recommended for passing the time. Once they have been purged you must place them in a container which goes into a refrigerator or freezer so they will go into a dormant state. This makes the next step much more humane.

Place the snails in boiling, salted water for 15 minutes, simmer. This both kills and cooks them. Be warned, smaller snails with thinner yellow shells or snails that have suffered damage to their shells in the past do not cook as well. They may shrivel inside the shell to the point that you can’t pull them out, or they may even explode (At least some of their organs will).

After they have been cooked something to take note of is that the water turns to a brinish green and so do parts of the snails. They and the water will give off a wretched smell. Some people say that Europeans hold their heads up high because they think they are better than everyone else. This is not true, they are simply avoiding the odor that wafts off their cooking.

Once you extract the snails from their shells you can do as you please with them. I went with dousing them with a lot of garlic butter to disguise the snails themselves. The only unique thing about this is that snails, as far as I’m concerned for cooking purposes, are living tofu. They taste like what you put on them (and you must put something on them if you wish to hold on to your earlier meals).

The texture is chewy, although not as slimy as I anticipated and is easy to swallow. To sum up why this is a bad dish; my dog made faces rather than have a sample. It may be very obvious that this project aggravated me since it was an unappealing process and left me feeling sick. Now I only hope that the snail tribes don’t dub me as a murderer.

Everything’s A Container!

When designing your outdoor space, it is easy to just buy a fun planter at the store, but if you want more creative garden container ideas, this is the list for you. Each of these fun and creative containers takes something you can easily find in your home or at a flea market and makes it into a beautiful display for your plants.

Creative Planter Ideas for Your Garden

These creative garden container designs have projects for every aesthetic. Have an old desk, dresser, or chair you don’t know what to do with? Add some soil and your favorite flowers for a unique porch decoration. Want a more rustic-looking space? Try one of the creative garden containers using wood or stone.

There are even ideas on this list that you make with your kids as an easy family project. Round up old outgrown rain boots, toy trucks, or laundry baskets and make fun planters out of them together. Whether your outdoor space is large or small, there are creative projects to fit your needs. If you have a smaller yard, try one of the hanging containers to save space. Read on for instructions for making all creative garden container ideas!

DIY Rustic Log Flower Container

DIY Rustic Log Flower Container

Anyone who is handy with a hatchet can easily create this planter. Cut into a firewood log, making a channel for the potting soil and plants. Leave space on the ends. Fill the log with potting soil. Add a mixture of charming annuals, and display this outdoors. Add rocks around it to keep it from rolling over.

Vintage Dining Room Chair

Vintage Dining Room Chair

Replace the seat of an old chair with a flower basket. You can paint the chair in a bright color for extra charm. If you like, paint the chair and then distress the finish to give it a vintage look. Try contrasting the color of the flowers and the chair.

Cute and Easy Colander Planters

Cute and Easy Colander Planters


Colanders make great planters. Not only are they quirky and unexpected, but the holes provide ventilation and drainage for your plants. Small colanders can be used on a countertop or table. They look equally nice with succulents or jade trees indoors or with fresh annuals outdoors. You can even hang them like baskets.

Cinder Block Garden Container Ideas

Cinder Block Garden Container Ideas


Create modern-looking planters as easily as stacking cinder blocks. You can make these planters free standing or build them into a raised bed. Line the inside of each cinder block with a pot for easy planting. These look very nice with mosses, greens, and grasses.

Upcycled Plastic Laundry Basket Container

Upcycled Plastic Laundry Basket Container

Upcycle an old laundry basket into this attractive burlap planter. Repair any cracks in the planter with packing tape or duct tape. Then hot glue sheets of burlap inside to cover the holes. Continue covering the planter with burlap until it is completely transformed. Wrap a finishing piece of burlap around the top and use it to cover the handles. Finish with a piece of rope.

Antique Metal Tool Box Planter

Antique Metal Tool Box Planter

Find an old metal toolbox at an antique store or yard sale. Any small metal container with a hinged lid will do. If you are looking for an authentic antique look, display a tool in the box along with the plants. These containers are especially suited to succulents and greens.

Easy DIY Plant Chandelier Decoration

Easy DIY Plant Chandelier Decoration

Find an old chandelier. It doesn’t have to be wired for electricity. Make sure the arms face up. Take off any globes or vases and remove the wiring if necessary. Clean the chandelier well. Sand lightly. Use epoxy to glue on plant pots and saucers. Paint the entire chandelier with spray paint. Add flowers and greens.

Shabby Chic Antique Pitcher Planter

Shabby Chic Antique Pitcher Planter

This is a simple idea that provides some shabby chic charm to your garden. Find a large ceramic pitcher at a yard sale or resale shop. Fill this pitcher with potting soil. You can put some large rocks in the bottom to help with drainage and reduce the amount of soil you need. Plant a mixture of annuals in the pitcher.

DIY Stone Garden Container Tutorial

DIY Stone Garden Container Tutorial


Be creative when using natural stones as planters. You may already have rocks with depressions that are deep enough to plant in. You can also try stacking rocks on their sides and planting in between them. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Succulents and greens would be attractive in these rock planters.

Pretty Wicker Basket Flower Planter

Pretty Wicker Basket Flower Planter

You can use an old laundry basket for this project or buy a new wicker basket. It’s as easy as finding a plain planter large enough to fit inside the basket and then planting it however you wish. Using a layered approach makes for a neat and attractive planter.

DIY Wagon Wheel Creative Garden Container Design

DIY Wagon Wheel Creative Garden Container Design

With an old wagon wheel, you can create an impressive display of succulents. Use a container the same size as the wheel. Line the bottom of the wheel with cactus soil. Add chicken wire as a support for your plants. Secure the wheel over the top of the chicken wire. Plant succulents in the holes, packing them in tightly for a finished look.

Antique Bathtub as Garden Décor

Antique Bathtub as Garden Décor

This is a fun and quirky idea that will make your garden stand out. It relies on finding an old claw-foot bathtub: you may be able to find these at estate sales or in resale stores. Fill the bottom with large rocks for drainage. Fill in the top with soil and plant with annuals.

Painted Tire Hanging Decoration

Painted Tire Hanging Decoration

Find an old tire. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Line the tire with fabric weed barrier. Add Styrofoam packing peanuts to help with drainage. Fill the bottom of the tire with potting soil and add a mixture of hanging and vertical annuals. Hang it from a tree like a tire swing or on a sturdy nail on the exterior wall of your home.

DIY Seashell Succulent Container

Easy DIY Seashell Succulent Container

This idea relies on finding large seashells with openings that are large enough to fill with potting soil. Select your shell carefully and drill a hole in the bottom for drainage. Succulents do poorly in undrained soil. Add plants and display your shells in a sunny place.

Antique Washtub Garden Tutorial

Antique Washtub Garden Tutorial

Use vintage washtubs to create a floral display. If you can find a washtub with legs, this would make a special accent for your arrangement. Raise all the tubs off the ground with rocks to promote drainage. It is easy to create an attractive arrangement of flowers and greens in these washtubs.

Galvanized Metal Watering Can

Galvanized Metal Watering Can


Find old galvanized metal watering cans. Look through your garage and garden for watering cans that can be repurposed, or try yard sales. Fill these planters with lush upright arrangements for the best look. It would be even nicer to use graduated sizes of watering cans going up a set of stairs.

Palette and Pot Planter for Small Spaces

Palette and Pot Planter for Small Spaces

Use this palette planter for kitchen herbs. It would be easy to lean up against the rail of a porch or deck. Affix metal rings to the palette with screws. Set small terracotta plant pots in the rings. To tie your display together, paint the tops of the pots with chalkboard paint and use attractive lettering to label your plants.

Upcycled Toy Truck Garden Planters

Upcycled Toy Truck Garden Planters


Toy trucks make fun and unexpected garden planters. Just make sure children are not tempted to roll your plants around and damage them. The toy trucks don’t need to be in good condition: rust is fine. Try filling these trucks with small succulents or upright greens.

DIY Stone Hand Garden Container Idea

DIY Stone Hand Garden Container Idea


Make this unique planter yourself with concrete. Mix concrete in a large bucket. Use it to fill sturdy rubber gloves. When the concrete is dry, simply pull off the gloves. Then fill the hands with pretty greens or flowers.

Easy DIY Vintage Book

Easy DIY Vintage Book

An old book makes an eye-catching planter for succulents. Use a vintage book. Run a thin layer of white glue around the outside of the pages. Cut a rectangular hole into the pages with an exacto knife. This is the most difficult part and requires repeated cuts. Make the hole at least 1 ½ inches deep. Line the bottom with wax paper or a plastic bag and plant succulents inside.

Stone Heart Garden Decorations

Stone Heart Garden Decorations

Find flat heart-shaped planters at the home improvement store or garden center. Add potting soil to the bottom. Fill these planters with plants that will not grow too tall. Succulents or greens are good choices.

Space-Saving DIY Shoe Organizer

Space-Saving DIY Shoe Organizer

Each shoe pocket in this organizer can be filled with a plant. Using it as a kitchen herb garden would be nice, as the organizer can be hung on a sunny wall near the kitchen door. Be sure to water this carefully so that the plants on the bottom row don’t get too soggy.

Plastic Pipe Hanging Garden Idea

Plastic Pipe Hanging Garden Idea

Make a hanging planter with PVC pipe. First cut the pipe and end caps in half horizontally. Epoxy the caps onto the ends of the pipe. Make a hanging ladder arrangement with chains. Secure the planters on the chains. This would be an ideal planter for herbs, lettuce, and other edible greens.

Upcycled Boot Flower Planter Tutorial

Upcycled Boot Flower Planter Tutorial

Find an old work boot at a thrift store. Remove the tongue of the boot. Drill drainage holes through the sole and the arch. Plant the toe of the boot with microgreens. Line the rest of the shoe with coir, the material found in the bottom of hanging baskets. Fill it with potting soil and the flowers of your choice.

Paint Can and Ladder Set-up

Paint Can and Ladder Set-up


Use old paint cans and a small stepladder for this charming display. When planting, match the color of the flower with the color of the paint on the exterior of the can. The colors tie it all together for a quirky look.

Antique Wooden Washtub Flower Planter

Antique Wooden Washtub Flower Planter


An antique wooden washtub makes an ideal flower planter. It provides drainage and keeps the flowers up off the ground. All you need to do is lift the lid and secure it in place so it will not fall and damage your plants. Then fill the planter with soil and the old-fashioned flowers it calls for.

Upcycled Desk Garden Container for Your Porch

Upcycled Desk Garden Container for Your Porch

If you can find an old desk, this would make an excellent planter. Paint the desk and chair in a bright color to match. Pull the drawers out in a graduated fashion. Fill these with plant pots or potting soil. This design looks especially nice with a mix of greens and climbing flowers.

DIY Vintage Sink Garden Planter

DIY Vintage Sink Garden Planter


A kitchen sink makes an eye-catching and attractive planter. Try securing old plates to the bottom of the sink and planting around it. Using white, frothy flowers gives the appearance of dish suds. A bathroom sink would also look nice with succulents and pebbles.

Wooden Plant Boxes with Built-in Bench

Wooden Plant Boxes with Built-in Bench

This planter bench is not an easy project, but can provide a learning experience for a beginning woodworker. Begin by cutting cedar planks. Sand the planks and assemble into boxes for the ends. When the planters are built, attach them with the bench. Stain the planter bench and add flowers to each end.

Pretty Vintage Garden Container

Pretty Vintage Garden Container


Use an old chest of drawers as a planter. First, paint and distress the finish if needed. Then pull out the drawers in a graduated order from top to bottom. Fill the drawers with potting soil and add flowers. Create a cohesive design by using flowers from one color family. Add interest by combining the chest of drawers with vases and planters.

DIY Wooden Wheelbarrow Flower Planter

DIY Wooden Wheelbarrow Flower Planter

Use a tiny wheelbarrow as an accent for your garden. Paint the wheelbarrow if desired. Fill it with lush and overflowing blooms to contrast with the wheelbarrow’s simplicity. This planter can be wheeled from one side of the yard to the other to change up the display as well as moving the planter to better areas of sunshine.

Concrete Planters for Your Garden or Porch

Concrete Planters for Your Garden or Porch


Find these understated concrete planters at the home improvement store. These are so sturdy, they will last a lifetime. Use a variety of levels for visual interest, beginning with a bowl that sits low to the ground. Fill these planters with a tall and dramatic arrangement of flowers. Snapdragons provide height and tulips provide a bright seasonal pop of color. Fill in the rest with annuals.

Tiered Clay Pot Herb Garden

Tiered Clay Pot Herb Garden

This is a cute way to display kitchen herbs. Thread a rod through the pots, setting them at an angle. Stack the pots on top of each other. Fill the pots with soil, but do not overfill them or the plants might fall. Add ceramic labels for each level.

Painted Tire Flower Display

Painted Tire Flower Display

Use old tires for this charming display. First, paint three tires in bold, exciting colors. Then line the inside of the tire with a platform that fits. Stack the tires together in a pleasing arrangement and add soil. Use a variety of colors and heights to make a fun, creative arrangement.

DIY Rustic Flower Planter with Logs

DIY Rustic Flower Planter with Logs

Use a round piece of plywood as a base for this planter. Remove the bark from an assortment of fireplace logs. Use logs with varying height and width. Arrange these in a ring around the edge of the plywood and screw them in place. Add a plant pot inside for a rustic look.

Cute Rain Boot Hanging Planters

Cute Rain Boot Hanging Planters


This idea is as simple as finding old kids’ rain boots at the thrift store. Use a mixture of colors and sizes for variety. Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the boots and add potting soil. Hang the boots on a fence or wall and add flowers.

DIY Clay Pot Garden Pond

DIY Clay Pot Garden Pond

Make a container water garden with a large ceramic bowl. Add pebbles to the bottom of the bowl. Use a portable filtration system to keep your plants in ideal shape. Use a variety of water plants, from greens to water lilies. Be careful to keep your garden from growing stagnant, or the plants will die.

Repurposed Garden Fountain Container Idea

Repurposed Garden Fountain Container Idea

Use a large concrete fountain as a show stopping display for succulents. Start with small succulents in the top level and plant larger ones as you go down. Trendy multicolored succulents have a special place in this arrangement. Plant around your fountain with lush greens.

Slugs & The People Who Love Them

Why we should love slugs

Slugs are vilified as slimy garden pests with revolting table manners. But perhaps we should give these much-maligned molluscs a second chance.

What is it about slugs that so repels us? After all, they are closely related to snails, with their pretty shells and (to some) their associations with gastronomy.

Their other relatives, shell-forming marine invertebrates from around the world, are highly desirable to collectors who want to own their exquisitely beautiful protective armour. But a slug?

Despite all of the adjectives at our disposal to describe these soft, glistening, moist, succulent, flexible, sleek and tender creatures, the only one that most people can come up with is ‘slimy’.

The reason why slugs suffer from such a poor image is, unfortunately, abundantly clear: they have the temerity to wear their slime on the outside, rather than on the inside like the rest of us.

So, it’s time to give these much-abused animals a PR makeover.

Here are five things you didn’t know about these amazing molluscs:

  1. If you’re a keen gardener, it’s no good just hunting the big ones. Pheromones in their slime trails tell junior slugs that large slugs are around; killing them simply frees up space for small individuals to move in.
  2. Slime trails are a tactical compromise. The slug loses water in its mucus, which restricts its activity to the cool damp of night or to rainy days, but the lubrication that slime offers saves energy that would otherwise be needed to overcome friction.
  3. Unlike snails, no slugs live in fresh water (sea slugs evolved separately, also losing their ancestral shells).
  4. Though soft-bodied, slugs are hard-toothed. Each has an oral cavity that contains as many as 100,000 tiny teeth on the ribbon-like radula, or tongue.
  5. Slugs may look smooth, but sometimes that’s an illusion – a few are covered in soft prickles. One such species is the hedgehog slug, Arion intermedius.

Don’t Eat That! Identifying Edible Plants

A beginner’s guide to finding wild edible plants that won’t kill you

Go eat in the woods.

Coping With Spiders: Smash & Burn?

Natural ways to deal with spiders

Spiders are great for pest control, except when they overtake your home. Here are some nontoxic solutions for dealing with them.

Ways to deal with spiders naturally

A not-so itsy-bitsy spider. (Photo: Kathryn Willmott/Shutterstock)

Spiders are a vital part of the ecosystem around your home, so if you see them in the garden, leave them be and appreciate their work. But if you don’t enjoy their presence in your home and you don’t want to use toxic insecticides to deal with them (especially if you have children), you need options. While serious pest infestations should be dealt with by a professional, you will probably have to deal with some spider issues at some point. Here are some ideas for natural spider control in the home. I’d love to hear what has worked (or hasn’t worked) for you!

Prevention first

1. Use caulk: If spiders can’t get into your house, you won’t need to deal with them. One vital anti-spider step is to thoroughly seal up your house. Remember that spiders can fit through very small holes, so seal any gaps around windows, doors or plumbing and electrical entry points to the house with caulk. If you have a basement, especially in older houses, take special care to search for entry holes.

2. Repair window screens: Repair any holes in window screens, and use insect screens to fill chimneys and vents.

3. Look under your door: Some spiders especially like to enter under the front door, so installing a simple draft excluder can help prevent them from entering here (plus, they make heating or cooling your house more efficient).

4. Clear out around the house: Spiders love a lot of shrubs and plants, so trimming trees and shrubs that are close to the roof or siding can be helpful. Also consider not planting groundcover plants close to the house because they are ideal for spiders. Use a broom to knockout webs under eaves and around the house.

5. Keep a tidy house: While even the cleanest houses can be prey to spiders, spiders love clutter because it creates great hiding spots. Keeping a picked-up house can give spiders fewer hiding places. Knocking out any webs, and vacuuming any spiders and eggs (or removing them to the great outdoors) can also be helpful.

6. Remove the prey: Since spiders need bugs to survive, removing the prey (flies, fruit flies, etc.) from the house could be helpful in discouraging some spiders from moving in.


mint leaves and peppermint oilPeppermint oil may help deter spiders inside your house. (Photo: Liljam/Shutterstock)

7. Essential oils: There are many recipes for homemade bug deterrent sprays that use essential oils. Popular ingredients include tea tree, peppermint, and citrus. However, if you have children and/or pets in the house, make sure whatever oils you use are safe for them. Cats are especially vulnerable to essential oils.

Here are a couple examples:

8. Vinegar: Another home solution is vinegar, which is also supposed to deter spiders. Some mix it with essentials oils as well, such as in this recipe.

9. Catnip oil (or plants): In one university study, catnip oil was found to repel spiders. Using catnip oil around entry points and doors and windows, or perhaps planting catnip around your house could be helpful in deterring spiders.

10. Chestnuts: Some people in the Midwest and the United Kingdom swear that horse chestnuts scattered near points of entry make all the difference, but this might just be an old wives’ tale. Take this one with a grain of salt — or better yet, try it and see what happens.

11. Tobacco: Others find success using tobacco leaves as a deterrent. One commenter on swears by the use of this tobacco mixture: “Get a package of pipe or chewing tobacco, soak it in a gallon of boiling water until it cools. Strain the liquid into a clean container. Put a cup of tobacco juice and 1/2 cup lemon dish soap into a hose-end sprayer and spray. I did this at our house two years ago and have been practically spider-free since. This works on all kinds of bugs. I thank Jerry Baker, the Master Gardener, for the tip since we were literally being taken over by spiders.”

What about traps?

12. Nontoxic sticky traps: Sticky traps placed in strategic places around the house can help catch some types of spiders. Throw these devices away and replace once you have caught a couple of spiders.

13. No-kill spider-catching device: If you don’t want to actually kill the spider, but hate trying to balance a moving spider on a piece of newspaper, this device is for you.

Don’t pee on the plants: For Quadrapeds and People

Author: Emily Kane

Theories abound about what in dog urine is toxic to plants, a popular one being extremes of pH. People say that acidic urine burns the plants, but the real answer to “Why does dog pee kill plants?” is a lot simpler.

First, answering the questions — Does dog pee kill plants? And why does dog pee kill plants?

A pug peeing on a brick wall.

A 1981 study called Lawn burn from dog urine helped bury the old myth that pH is causing the trouble. The concentration of urea in dog urine is basically too much of a good thing for grass and other plants. Other salt and compounds such as potassium may also contribute, but nitrates are known to be the No. 1 killer.

The main thing that makes dog urine more damaging is volume. Large dogs deposit more urine. Females tend to deposit it all in one location. Male dogs are easier on the grass but hard on trees, where urine sprayed on the trunk can filter down to the roots and in large enough volumes can kill the entire plant.

Just how much dogs contribute to the poor health of some city trees is under debate. But we’ve all seen the grates, bags and other contraptions to try and keep the trees pee-free.

So, what can you do about dog pee killing plants?

You can use training to modify behavior, getting your dog to pee in certain areas and to use the gutters rather than the grass. But most dog owners draw the line at being quite that prescriptive. So there are a number of other tips to reduce the conflict between pup and gardens.

1. Designate dog pee areas

Focusing all the dog pee in one spot can help with the problem … if you give up putting any plants in that area. A stake in an out of the way area may attract males to use the area. Likewise, when you are out and about, if your dog will use mulched or graveled areas, this will reduce stress on plants.

Of course, a dog’s gotta go when a dog’s gotta go. But when you have the option, steer Fido to a lamppost rather than a tree and a bark covered area rather than a stressed-looking lawn.

You can spot stressed trees by bark that is discolored or even peeling off around the base. And trees that are under six inches in diameter or have thin bark are at higher risk.

2. Dilute the dog pee by watering

If you can, watering the peed-on area immediately can help dilute the urine and minimize plant damage. For similar reasons it is a good idea to ensure your dog always has ample access to water. More diluted urine will do less damage. And besides, who wants to have a dehydrated doggie?

3. Urine burn applications

Various potions are on sale to break down the ammonia even more effectively than water. So if you have an especially cranky neighbor and your dog just really has to go on his property, you might consider carrying a squirt bottle of pee-weakener on your walks to minimize the damage. If your local stores don’t have it, you can order it online in tablet form and make the solution up as needed.

4. Use robust grasses

If you are establishing or replacing a lawn, look into more robust grass species. Most lawns use something like Kentucky bluegrass, which has shallow roots and is easy to transport and establish. But it is also one of the more sensitive varieties and easily damaged by urine. Bermuda or ryegrasses may be more difficult to establish but they are hardier once they settle in.

The most important thing to remember when answering “Does dog pee kill plants?”

Whether you are more of a dog person or more of a plant person, or a bit of both, it is always a good idea to try and reduce conflict where we can and make the community a great place for both puppies and plants.

Phenology In The Garden

5 Plants and Animals Utterly Confused by Climate Change

Global warming is causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late in many places, and not all species are adapting at the same rate.

By Livia Albeck-Ripka and Brad Plumer 

Credit Lauren Kolesinskas for The New York Times

Every year, as the seasons change, a complex ballet unfolds around the world. Trees in the Northern Hemisphere leaf out in the spring as frost recedes. Caterpillars hatch to gorge on leaves. Bees and butterflies emerge to pollinate flowers. Birds leave the Southern Hemisphere and fly thousands of miles to lay eggs and feast on insects in the north.

All of these species stay in sync with each other by relying on environmental cues, much as ballet dancers move to orchestral music.

But global warming is changing the music, with spring now arriving several weeks earlier in parts of the world than it did a few decades ago. Not all species are adjusting to this warming at the same rate, and, as a result, some are falling out of step. 

Scientists who study the changes in plants and animals triggered by seasons have a term for this: phenological mismatch. And they’re still trying to understand exactly how such mismatches — like the blooming of a flower before its pollinator emerges — might affect ecosystems.

In some cases, species might simply adapt by shifting their ranges, or eating different foods. But if species can’t adapt quickly enough, these mismatches could have “significant negative impacts,” said Madeleine Rubenstein, a biologist at the United States Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.

“If you look at the past history of climate on earth, there has never been such a dramatic, rapid, change in the climate,” said Andrea Santangeli, a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Museum of Natural History. “Species have to respond really fast,” he said, “that’s really unprecedented.”

Here are five examples of mismatch, just one of the many threats that species face from global warming, that scientists have discovered so far:

The early spider orchid relies on deception to reproduce. Each spring, the orchid, whose bulbous crimson body looks like an insect, releases a pheromone that tricks solitary male bees into thinking the plant is a mating partner — a key step for pollination.

This ruse, which scientists call pseudocopulation, works because the orchid tends to bloom during a specific window each spring — shortly after lonely male bees emerge from hibernation but before female bees appear.

Yet with spring coming earlier, female bees are now emerging sooner and luring the male bees away from the lovelorn orchid, according to a 2014 study from Britain.

By examining data collected in herbariums and in the field over a century, the researchers found that the gap between the times when male bees and female bees emerge shrinks by about 6.6 days for each degree Celsius of warming, giving the orchid less opportunity to reproduce.

“The main finding is that things are getting increasingly bad for orchid pollination,” said Anthony Davy, a professor of biological science at the University of East Anglia, and the lead author of the paper. For this orchid — which is already rare — the future looks bleak, he said.

The European pied flycatcher runs on a tight schedule each spring.

From its wintering grounds in Africa, the bird flies thousands of miles north to Europe to lay eggs in time for the emergence of winter moth caterpillars, which appear for a few weeks each spring to munch on young oak leaves.

By timing this just right, the flycatchers ensure there’s enough food around when their hungry chicks hatch. In a series of studies in the 2000s, however, scientists in the Netherlands showed that many flycatchers were starting to miss this narrow window.

As spring temperatures warmed, oak trees were leafing out earlier and peak caterpillar season was arriving up to two weeks sooner in some places. But many flycatchers, which appear to schedule their departure from Africa based on the length of day there, were not getting to Europe early enough for their spring meals.

In the parts of the Netherlands where peak caterpillar season had advanced the fastest, the scientists later found, flycatcher populations dwindled sharply. “That was the big discovery that suggested this mismatch could have real consequences for populations,” said Christiaan Both, an ecologist at the University of Groningen.

Climate change doesn’t just cause missed connections. In some cases, the advance of warmer weather can lead to perilous meetings.

In Finland, for example, the Northern lapwing and Eurasian curlew have usually built their ground nests on barley fields after farmers have sown their crops in the spring. But as temperatures have risen, the birds are now increasingly laying their eggs before the farmers get to the fields, which means their well-concealed nests are more likely to get destroyed by tractors and other machinery.

Looking at 38 years of data, researchers found that farmers in Finland are now sowing their fields a week earlier in response to warmer temperatures, but the birds are laying their eggs  two to three weeks earlier. “This has created a phenological mismatch,” said Mr. Santangeli, the lead author of the study. “The response we’ll see is declines of these birds.”

Caribou in western Greenland follow a strict seasonal diet. In the winter, they eat lichen along the coast. In the spring and summer, they venture inland to give birth to their calves and eat the Arctic plants that grow there.

As Greenland has warmed up and sea ice has declined, however, those inland Arctic plants have been emerging earlier — with some plant species now greening 26 days earlier than they did a decade ago. But the caribou have not shifted their migration as quickly. And scientists have documented a troubling trend in the region: More caribou calves appear to be dying early in years when the spring plant growth preceded the caribou’s calving season.

While that study only found a correlation between warmer temperatures and caribou calf deaths, “it’s consistent with the idea that mismatch is disadvantageous,” said Eric Post, an ecology professor at the University of California, Davis. When Arctic plants green up earlier, they may become tougher and less nutritious by the time the caribou get there and start eating them.

Why don’t the caribou speed up their migration? One possibility is that their reproductive cycles respond most strongly to seasonal signals like the length of the day, whereas plants respond more strongly to local temperatures, which are rising.

In theory, if given enough time, the caribou might eventually adjust as natural selection takes its course and favors individuals that calve earlier. But with the Arctic warming faster than the rest of the globe, Dr. Post said, “the question is whether things are changing too fast for evolution to matter.”

Climate change doesn’t just cause mismatches in the spring. Consider the snowshoe hare, whose fur coat has evolved to change from brown to white during the winter for camouflage. As the earth has warmed, however, snow cover in the hare’s habitat melts sooner, leaving the animal more exposed to predators.

“Camouflage is critical to keep prey animals alive,” said L. Scott Mills, a professor of wildlife biology at the University of Montana who studies the impacts of camouflage mismatch on species like the snowshoe hare.

For every week the hare is mismatched, Dr. Mills and his colleagues found, it had a 7 percent higher chance of being killed by predators like the lynx.

Currently, the hare is only mismatched by a week or two. But by midcentury, Dr. Mills said, that could extend up to eight weeks. If that were to happen, he said, the hare “would start declining toward extinction.”

There is some good news for the snowshoe hare, however. Where evolution was previously thought to take millions of years, scientists now think an animal like the hare could adapt in five to 10 generations, especially if those parts of the hare population which are more adaptable are protected.

“It does give us an avenue for hope,” Dr. Mills said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that species with phenological mismatch are going to go extinct.”

Phenology In the Garden
Nature’s “signs” are different in every region; however, you should still relate to these examples:

  • Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips, and spinach.
  • When the forsythia is in bloom, it is safe to plant peas, onions and lettuce.
  • Half-hardy veggies, including beets, carrots, and chard, can be planted when daffodils blossom.
  • Look for dandelions to bloom before planting potatoes.
  • Perennial flowers can be planted when the maple trees begin to leaf out.
  • When quince is blossoming, transplant cabbage and broccoli.
  • Wait for apple trees to bloom before planting bush beans.
  • When the apple blossoms fall, plant pole beans and cucumbers.
  • By the time the lilacs are in full bloom, it will be safe to plant tender annual flowers and squashes.
  • Transfer tomato transplants to the garden when lily-of-the-valley is in full flower.
  • Full-sized maple leaves signal time to plant morning glory seeds.
  • Peppers and eggplant can be transplanted when the bearded iris are blooming.
  • When peonies blossom, it is safe to plant heat-loving melons, such as cantaloupe.

5 environmental benefits of moss gardening

5 environmental benefits of moss gardening

by Timber Press on September 9, 2015

in Gardening, Popular

A green roof at the North Carolina Arboretum demonstrates mosses are a viable alternative to sedums and grasses. Image: Annie Martin

The Magical World of Moss Gardening author Annie Martin makes the case for going green with mosses.

We are bombarded with television commercials on how to go green in our gardens—but most of the time, environmentally unfriendly methods are recommended to achieve green, particularly the application of chemicals to promote growth, inhibit plant diseases, and eliminate insect pests. By contrast, moss gardening is truly green through and through. You do not need a chemical “green thumb” to succeed—no fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. By eliminating the use of poisons, you can play a valuable role in reducing groundwater contamination and runoff of hazardous chemicals into our natural water resources. When you stop mowing, you are taking personal steps to reduce air pollution. Mosses are an environmentally benign way to conserve water, control erosion, filter rainwater, clean up hazardous chemicals, and sequester carbon. Also, mosses serve a valuable ecological role as bioindicators for air pollution, acid rain, water pollution, and wastewater treatment.

All of these side benefits of beautiful bryophytes make them good eco-friendly choices for our gardens. Add the feathers of a responsible steward and champion for sustainable landscapes to your jaunty moss gardener’s hat. Every little bit helps, and it all adds up to a better world.

In places where nothing else will grow, mosses provide an outstanding yearround green solution. Leucobryum glaucum and Dicranum scoparium skirt this tree base. Image: Annie Martin

1. No poisons or pollution
Many gardeners and landscapers rely on fertilizers, but as a moss gardener, you will need no soil supplements to encourage growth. In fact, too much nitrogen along with other macro, secondary, and trace nutrients could be harmful. Since mosses “eat” dust particles in such minute quantities, fertilizers could actually hamper moss growth. Even organic fertilizers might provide too much of a particular nutrient or micronutrient.

Beneficial insects, salamanders, frogs, and the like live in moss colonies. Because of internal anti-herbivory compounds, mosses taste bad to typical garden insect pests or critters. Deer might stomp around, but they don’t eat mosses. Reindeer have been documented eating reindeer moss, but it is a lichen and not a true moss (bryophyte). Further, insects inhabiting mosses do not eat them or cause any significant damage. Therefore, pesticides are unnecessary.

To complete your shunning of the trio of harmful environmental substances, you can stop using any herbicides, too. Biochemical compounds in mosses function like antibiotics to deter any diseases, so mosses are not subject to the vast array of problematic diseases that plague other land plants. It is a rare occasion when mosses get any fungal disease or harmful pathogens. Although it is possible for mosses to get sick, in my experience it been the exception rather than the rule. When mold occurs, it is usually due to overwatering, lack of attention to debris, or multilayering of moss colonies as a result of critter shenanigans. As moss gardeners, we do need to be aware of problems and troubleshooting protocols. Information is becoming available in this area as scientists are beginning to research potential fungal issues regarding cultivated moss growth.

By planting mosses instead of a grass lawn, you can help reduce air pollution. Not all air pollution comes from industrial sites or big cities. Each week, millions of suburban grass lovers send carbon smoke signals into our atmosphere. If you are still cutting your grass with a gasoline-powered mower, you are contributing to this problem. Lawnmowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers are only minimally regulated. They do not have catalytic converters, and that obnoxious smell is a harmful discharge. Mosses do not have to be mowed.

Mosses don’t need to be mowed, thus avoiding the air pollution produced by mowers, and Sphagnum mosses actually clean our air. Image: Annette Launer

2. Water conservation
Because of low annual rainfall in arid regions, water supplies can be precious commodities. Watering restrictions are the norm. During times of drought, some places may temporarily restrict watering for landscape purposes. Mosses do require moisture and thus are not xeriscaping solutions for landscapes; they do much better if watered regularly. But if you are concerned about water conservation, using rainwater collection systems and these tiny plants that require only brief, light watering sessions could be part of your solution. Rather than long drenching soaks weekly, mosses prefer short sessions each day. Misting irrigation systems that use a fraction of the water of other kinds of irrigation systems are enough to keep mosses happy.

3. Erosion control and flood mitigation
Many moss species are guardians of the soil and keep it from washing away. Polytrichum commune, an upright grower, can be planted on steep hillsides in nutrient-poor soil. This species is an excellent solution to erosion concerns even in sunny locations. Its long rhizoids steadfastly hold red clay, gravel, and sandy substrates in position. Steep, almost totally vertical slopes hold together as tiny Pogonatum mosses cling to exposed substrates. Rushing water slows down to enter the groundwater table gradually thanks to the absorptive properties of moss leaves.

The harsh appearance of riprap used to hold a bank in place can be softened by introducing Thuidium delicatulum, a fernlike sideways grower. Planting mosses in drainage ditches reduces the impact of stormwater runoff. And let’s not forget our roofs—bryophytes can be featured in contemporary green roofs that insulate and cool, filter air pollutants, and reduce stormwater runoff.

In America, most newly constructed green roofs are composed of sedums or grasses, but mosses are used as part of green roofs in European countries, and in 2011 I created a roof at the North Carolina Arboretum as an example of how mosses are feasible on green roofs. Incorporating rainwater harvesting with a misting irrigation system, this green roof makes it possible for the mosses to do well even in direct sun. Polytrichum and Ceratodon species have been the best performers, with intense growth and several seasons of sporophytic displays, but I must acknowledge that Leucobryum species have struggled, so not all mosses are happy campers on rooftops. Mosses such as Bryum argenteum, Ceratodon purpureus, and Hedwigia ciliata do tolerate high heat and grow on many roofs in my region. In the Northwest, Dicranoweisia cirrata, Bryum capillare, Rhytidiopsis robusta, Racomitrium canescens, and Tortula princeps are abundant on roofs.

Thuidium delicatulum covering a steep bank in the Vickery garden in Brevard, North Carolina, provides effective erosion control. Image: Annette Launer

4. Filtration and phytoremediation
In terms of water filtration, Sphagnum species are especially effective as filtering and absorbing agents in the treatment of wastewater. Research indicates that mosses can be useful in addressing toxic discharge of undesirable elements (silver, copper, cadmium, mercury, iron, antimony, and lead). In urban areas, these advantages could play an important role in dealing with excessive rainfall, poor drainage, and flash flooding associated with nonpermeable surfaces. Further, mosses filter out organic substances such as oils, detergents, dyes, and microorganisms. In our streams and rivers, bryophytes are essential in food web interactions and nutrient cycling, contributing to the total stream metabolism.

Mosses can help reclaim land at abandoned sites where mining has occurred. Many species are tolerant of heavy metal toxins. Scopelophila cataractae, commonly referred to as copper moss, is often associated with copper deposits and can be the first species of plants to reappear without any special efforts, yet the beneficial effects of this category of pioneer plants may go unnoticed in formal efforts to restore forsaken landscapes.

In places where people brave extreme winter weather, salt is used extensively by road maintenance crews and homeowners digging out. As the snow melts, these salts are absorbed into the soil and penetrate into groundwater. Additionally, after a heavy storm, runoff water from nonpermeable surfaces rushes through urban drainage systems to lakes, rivers, wetlands, and coastal waters. According to the United States Geological Survey, “Stormwater picks up potential pollutants that may include sediment, nutrients (from lawn fertilizers), bacteria (from animal and human waste), pesticides (from lawn and garden chemicals), metals (from rooftops and roadways), and petroleum by-products (from leaking vehicles).” I am glad to report that mosses are part of the solution rather than being victims of pollution—they slow down stormwater while tolerating unfiltered contaminants. Sometimes I rescue mosses from places subject to runoff from roads and impervious asphalt parking lots. Despite exposure to oil residue from cars and trucks as well as seasonal road salt, bryophytes survive and even thrive.

Furthermore, mosses sneak in and grow at plant nurseries in spite of sanitation practices that include chlorination, bromine injections, and/or ozonation of irrigation water. Wouldn’t you want plants that can handle even the worst of circumstances in your own yard?

This serene green retreat was once a driveway. Image: Annie Martin

5. Carbon sequestration
Mosses play a significant environmental role in the global carbon cycle as the largest land repository for carbon on the planet. Sphagnum peatlands soak up vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, far exceeding the rate of carbon sequestration by all rainforests combined. (When the rate of plant production in an ecosystem exceeds the rate of plant decomposition, carbon sequestration occurs.) Peatlands contain as much carbon as is present in Earth’s entire atmosphere; it is estimated that they sequester between 198 and 502 billion tons of carbon.

You see, more than 60 percent of the world’s wetlands are composed of Sphagnum mosses and decaying vascular plant matter, and Sphagnum-based bogs cover 2 to 3 percent of our planet’s land mass—more total land mass than all the rest of the plants on Earth, including all other trees, grasses, and flowers, combined. Sphagnum may sequester more carbon than any other land plant, according to bryophyte ecologist Janice Glime, although aquatic algae do exceed Sphagnum in volume of carbon sequestered globally.

These globally significant ecosystems contain one third of the world’s soil carbon and 10 percent of our freshwater resources. Approximately 175 countries around the world have peatlands that serve as carbon sinks. In North America, large expanses of Sphagnum peat occur from the boreal forests of Canada to the Everglade’s fens and swamps in Florida.

While Planet Earth’s inhabitants could benefit from these moss enclaves, regrettably we are destroying them. The extensive devastation of peat bogs is happening due to a variety of factors including global warming, irresponsible harvesting in mass quantities, agricultural expansion, commercial exploitation, and fire. It is estimated that 7 percent of peatlands globally have been exploited by clearing and draining areas for agricultural endeavors. Indonesia has more tropical peatlands than any other nation but is losing them at an alarming rate—nearly 250,000 acres each year.

The loss of rainforests through massive clear-cutting is associated with degradation of air quality and loss of carbon sequestration capacity worldwide, and the loss of Sphagnum biomass may have a similarly negative impact on global air quality and climate change. Billions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, are being released as the world’s largest peat bog (in Siberia), equal to the size of France and Germany combined, is thawing for the first time in eleven thousand years. And when peat bogs catch on fire, they can smolder for weeks, months, or years, releasing carbon dioxide all the while. The ominous cloud that covered Southeast Asia in 1997, attributed to Indonesia’s burning wetlands, lasted for months.

The destruction and corresponding decline of peat bogs due to humans could be turned around with the application of best management practices to regrow mosses. Researchers at Bangor University in Wales are currently investigating how the growth rate might be increased to achieve sustainability.

Walking on mosses is encouraged in the Kenilworth moss garden in Asheville, North Carolina, which features more than a mile of mossy trails. Image: Annie Martin