One problem that gardeners face is how to get seeds or plants for their natural yards. Not knowing how to begin establishing native species, many give up and continue mowing their lawns.
A great, underpublicized resource for seeds in the Madison area is the Dane County Seed Library. Five libraries in the area allow patrons to “check out” packets of vegetable seeds. While those who use the program are asked to harvest seeds from the resulting plants and return them to the library for others to benefit from, there’s no penalty for never returning anything.
Another great source of seeds is people who already have natural yards. Since plants produce seeds freely and abundantly, gardeners are usually happy to let others harvest some for planting in their own yards.
If asking a neighbor for permission to harvest their seeds is too awkward, seeds can also be harvested from native plants in public parks. Similarly to wildcrafting, this is not harmful to the environment as long as seeds are only harvested in moderation when and where they are plentiful.
Finally, seed packets can be purchased at native plant nurseries or even at hardware stores. While this of course costs money, paying a dollar or two for something that will make many more of itself is truly one of the best investments available today.
Snow and ice are a fact of life in Wisconsin. Shoveling is hard work, snowblowers make a lot of pollution – what is a homeowner to do?
Some deal with the problem by spreading salt on their sidewalks and driveways. While this is an effective practice that takes advantage of natural processes to efficiently solve a problem, many people greatly overestimate the amount of salt that is needed to accomplish the task at hand.
Just 1 to 3 cups of salt (approximately 1 to 3 pounds) per 1,000 square feet is plenty, says Dane County’s My Fair Lakes program. Property owners can use even less salt if they wet it before tossing it into the snow.
Using an entire 50-pound bag of salt, on the other hand, can pollute 10,000 gallons of water when it eventually washes down the storm drains and into the lakes. It also quickly becomes expensive for the homeowner, and the excessive salt can cause significant damage to pavement.
While salt is effective at melting snow, it’s not meant to be the sole solution to snow removal. After salting the driveway or sidewalk, wait 15 to 30 minutes. During this time, the salt will melt its way down to the pavement and unfreeze the snow from the ground. You’ll then be able to easily shovel it, resulting in a clear driveway or sidewalk.
Finally, remember to check that the type of salt you’re using is appropriate for conditions. Each kind of salt is only effective down to a certain temperature; if it’s colder than that, the snow won’t melt no matter how much salt you use.
For the first time since 1978, Madison has updated its ordinances related to “natural lawns”, which will now be called “natural landscapes”.
The new ordinance can be summarized as follows:
- Grass in residential yards may not exceed eight inches in height.
- Grass in residential yards may exceed eight inches in height, if the property owner obtains a permit.
- Grass in residential yards may exceed eight inches in height without a permit, if the area containing the tall grass only occupies a certain limited percentage of the yard, and if this area is a certain distance from the property lines, and if the tall grass is a species found on a brief list included in the ordinance.
The ordinance can be read here.
City officials hope that this will make it easier to have a natural yard in Madison, and plan to continue working on ways to encourage gardening practices that are friendly to pollinators and the environment.
Southern Wisconsin may have a short growing season, but as a trade-off, gardeners here have plenty of time to plan. Though the spring equinox is still six weeks away, events are happening right now to help you get ready for next summer’s garden. Here are a few of them.
The Garden Expo, a popular annual event, will take place February 10-12. The convention features many demonstrations of permaculture techniques, but also includes vendors who specialize in lawn care services. There’s something for every type of gardener. The demonstration garden at the center of the show floor is always a favorite.
Another annual event is the Arboretum’s native plant sale. Always held the Saturday before Mother’s Day, this year it falls on May 13. That may seem far away, but pre-orders will be opening in just a couple of weeks. Placing your order in advance is the best way to ensure you get the plants you want.
In general, January and February are the time to order native plants. Some sources are listed in this post from last year. Though the plants will not ship until spring, when it is safe to put them outside, ordering early ensures that all the available plants will not already be spoken for by gardeners who started their planning sooner.
This is also the time to start seeds indoors, in a sunny window or under a grow light. By the time the weather is warm enough to work outside, the seedlings will be ready to transplant.