Larchmont-Mamaroneck Healthy Yards Project
Pesticides and herbicides have been proven to have a negative effect on the health of our families, pets and pollinators. They contaminate our waterways and disrupt the ecosystem that can normally reduce pests in our yards naturally. The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Healthy Yards Project is dedicated to presenting safe, beautiful and easy alternatives for living with outdoor spaces that thrive. Whether you work with landscape professionals, tend to your own yard or cultivate a container garden, we invite you to enjoy the advantages of making it healthy.
Join your neighbors and take the Healthy Yard Pledge. Visit www.LMHealthyyards.org regularly for guidelines, examples and information about Healthy Yard community activities.
Fall Leaves: Mulch Mow, Don’t Blow
Your lawn and gardens are only as healthy as your soil. As the seasons transition from autumn to winter, our yards often capture a huge volume of falling leaves. Mulch mowing versus blowing this rich organic matter out of our yards is an easy practice that leads to healthy soil, verdant lawns and resilient gardens.
Mulch mowing is simply the process of running a lawn mower over grass, enabling clippings, shredded leaves and other organic matter to fall back into the lawn or be gathered for distribution around garden beds and shrubs. Mulching grass and leaf litter into tiny pieces enables it to more quickly decompose, releasing nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus -- essential nutrients for a healthy lawn. Microorganisms and earthworms in and beneath the turf break down this mulch, which improves soil structure.
As an alternative to raking, a lawn mower with a bagging attachment provides a fast and easy way to shred and collect the leaves for use in vegetable gardens, flowerbeds and around shrubs and trees. This helps retain moisture and provide a layer of insulation for plants and grasses during the cold winter months.
Most modern lawn mowers are capable of mulching. For older equipment, switching to a serrated mulching blade is an inexpensive upgrade that accomplishes the process effectively. The optimal blade height can vary from 2 to 4 inches, depending on the height of your grass. If in doubt, using the highest setting on your mower is generally a good practice for mulching leaves.
Mulch mowing is a time and money saving process that adds essential nutrition to improve the quality of your lawn and landscape while avoiding damaging emissions and bothersome noise from leaf blowers.
Local Students Champion Sustainability Initiatives
Student Ambassadors Noah Mass, Stella Gassman, Franco Marsella, Daphne Banino (l to r)
During the month of August, a team of energetic student sustainability ambassadors gave a boost to the environment by spreading the word about the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Healthy Yards Project and stopping the spread of invasive plant species in the native plant meadow at the Sheldrake Center.
Student ambassadors reached out to neighbors to build awareness about the Healthy Yards mission. A recurring topic in our Healthy Yards conversations is the importance of incorporating native plants into gardens of all types. In addition to being naturally easy to grow, natives provide essential food and habitat for insects, birds and animals that sustain our ecosystem -- a condition crucial to the continued survival of human life.
Student Ambassadors Emma Thorpe, Emma Kearney, Annissa Tan, Alex Tan (l to r)
Under the direction of Larchmont resident Luke Brussel, a half dozen student ambassadors also worked on removing invasive plant species such as Mugwort and Porcelain Berry vines that have overrun the native plant meadow at the Sheldrake Center. The multi-year restoration effort at Sheldrake aims to revitalize this section of landscape, ultimately allowing for a winding pathway through the meadow so that people can experience nature without harming the flora or fauna that exist there.
Student ambassador Stella Glassman, a rising junior, shared, “One of the biggest challenges when it comes to sustainability isn’t that people are necessarily against living a greener lifestyle, but rather they lack the education and tools to do so. We tried to tackle this issue by doing outreach: we left pamphlets at peoples’ doors and stood outside the library to try and educate/engage. In addition to doing outreach, We also helped with Native Plant restoration in Sheldrake meadow. Truthfully, I had always known invasive species were bad, but I never knew until now the extent of their damage to native ecosystems."
Create a Butterfly Garden!
Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and bats, are essential to our ecosystem and food chain. Habitat loss, use of chemical pesticides and effects of invasive species are among the factors threatening the survival of pollinators across our land. Fortunately, even a small pollinator friendly garden can help. Here are some simple tips for getting started with one of your own.
- Choose a sunny location and select native plants. Plants indigenous to our region provide the specific habitat and food requirements for native pollinators. Local nursery gardens, online seed companies and catalog suppliers can help you get started. The Xerces Society (www.xerces.org), a science based non-profit organization, offers a useful list of pollinator plants for the Northeast region with specifics by blooming period.
- Plant in drifts or clusters, placing several plants of the same type together. This makes it easier for pollinators to locate and forage. Scents, colors and shapes help attract butterflies.
- Aim to incorporate a variety of plants that bloom continuously throughout the growing season from early spring through late fall. Remember that food requirements vary by life stage. An adult butterfly will feed on nectar and pollen, while caterpillars may only consume leaves of host plants.
- Add simple elements for sustenance. Flat rocks provide a place where butterflies can rest in the sun. A puddle, small pan of water or a birdbath are good sources of muddy, mineral-rich water providing hydration and essential sodium for butterflies.
- Allow your native plants to remain through the winter. Many moths and butterflies overwinter as caterpillars, pupae, and even adults in the soil surface, leaf litter, dead plants, twigs, and other places where they can nestle in the garden. Left intact, your pollinator garden will also provide winter seeds for birds and attract wildlife.
Whether you plant in a garden bed, window box or containers, you can create a beautiful and healthy Pollinator Garden to suit the conditions in your space and support the magnificent creatures that enable life on our planet to continue.
Healthy Yards Keep Our Families, Wildlife and Ecosystem Safe!
Click here to read an excellent piece from the New York Times on America’s Killer Lawns, 5/18/2020
Photographed by Luke Brussel
Gardening with Native Plants: Easy, Beautiful, Better for our Ecosystem
As awareness of the need to support the natural ecosystems in which we live has grown, many residents have learned that turf grass lawns are “food deserts” for pollinators and other wildlife. Even those who enjoy gardening may be amazed to learn that virtually all of the yard plants sold in the US are not native to North America and therefore do not provide pollinators and birds with the nourishment and habitat they need to survive.
Native plants of North America are the flora that have evolved here together over millennia with the native birds, pollinators and animals as interdependent parts of a sustainable ecosystem. They are essential to the continuity of life. Native plants evolved to grow in the soil and under the conditions here without fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. They have less need for irrigation. Native plants also help reduce global warming by taking in carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in roots that grow more deeply into the earth than non-natives.
States in the Northeast are blessed with some of the most beautiful and easy to grow native plants. Some are well known, such Lupine and Milkweed, which is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies can lay their eggs. But one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening with natives is the discovery of less familiar plants (ironically, of course, because they are from here). Choose natives from your garden center or native plants supplier, selecting species that grow in the conditions present in your garden. For example, if you have a lot of light and wetter soil consider Cardinal Flower or Blue Vervain. Salvia tolerates drier garden beds. Foamflowers and dark leafed Coral Bells can grow in shadier areas. There are many stunning native species that thrive in all types of conditions, including container gardens. Try adding a new one to your garden this year.
Photographed by Arlene Novich
Celebrating Together: Earth Day at 50
The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Healthy Yards Project launched during Earth Week one year ago and within months, scores of residents took the Healthy Yards pledge to avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Members of more than 150 households are now displaying the Healthy Yards sign.
Due to current circumstances, the festivities we had scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this spring have been postponed, but here’s a quick rundown of the original plans:
- What’s the Buzz? This in-person event, originally scheduled for Saturday, April 25th at the Larchmont Public Library community room, showcased the Mamaroneck High School Bee Team, giving a ‘tour’ of their honeybee community including a view of fascinating bee habits and a taste of their delicious honey. The program also featured a presentation on the magic of incorporating low-maintenance native plants in your garden. Naturally suited to our local environment, native plants are hardy, beautiful, easy to grow and attract much-needed bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators.
- Healthy Yards, Healthy Schools. Did you know that the Mamaroneck Union Free School District supports the health of our students by avoiding the use of pesticides on school grounds? To show our appreciation of this healthy, environmentally conscious practice, we arranged for on-site presentations during Earth Week of customized Healthy Yards banners for each of the four public elementary schools with administrators, PTA leaders and students.
- Compost Give Back. As a tribute to the food waste recycling and composting effort so widely supported by our community - and incorporated in the LoveYourFoodny.org initiative - The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Sanitation Commission was on schedule to offer free high quality compost to residents for the third year in a row for use in creating healthier yards and gardens.
We look forward to seeing you at future Larchmont-Mamaroneck Healthy Yard Project community events as we update and reschedule our plans in the months ahead.
Working with your Landscaper Towards a Healthy Yard
Most landscapers and lawn care companies in our community have been maintaining their clients’ properties the same way they have done it for years, which includes routine use of insecticides, weed killers and fertilizers. These chemicals interfere with the functions of a healthy ecosystem. Whether you are already working with a lawn care company or considering hiring one, let your service provider know your preferences:
- I do not want pesticides or herbicides used in my yard. In addition to health risks these chemicals can cause harm to people and animals, they destroy beneficial insects and natural organisms that protect plants from pests and disease. I am willing to tolerate some weeds.
- I would like my grass mowed to a height of 3 inches or more. Long grass blades shade out weeds and collect more sun for healthy root growth.
- I would like grass clippings to fall back into the lawn during mowing, rather than being bagged and discarded. Those clippings are an important source of nutrients, which reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
- I would like fallen autumn leaves to be mulch-mowed or shredded, not blown to the curb for removal. Shredded leaves can be left in place or raked around the base of shrubs and flowerbeds. This provides valuable enrichment to soil, suppresses weeds and retains moisture.
Over-seeding (applying seeds on top of turf to fill in sparse areas or add to density) and core aeration when needed can yield a thick and robust lawn. If plants and shrubs are added to your yard, select natives. They grow best in our area and require little maintenance.
Falling Leaves: Free, Plentiful and Life Sustaining
When Autumn leaves are falling, another opportunity is presented to improve our yards and the environment. Leaves are a valuable resource that is wasted if blown to the curb to be left for removal, which too often ends up spreading across roads, clogging storm drains and releasing nitrogen that washes into our waterways. Instead, you or your landscaper can go over the leaves with a mulching lawn mower or leaf shredder to distribute around your property. This rich organic matter will:
- feed your lawn and garden, reducing the need for additional fertilizer
- suppress weeds in planters and flower beds
- function as a layer of insulation around shrubs
- create sanctuary for pollinators during the winter
- limit pollution and disruption to wildlife associated with leaf blowers
Be aware that our town and villages will pick up leaves piled at the curb several times between October and December, but not on a weekly basis, so making good use of the fallen leaves is a smart practice. For more information see www.leleny.org (Love’Em and Leave ‘Em is a Westchester County initiative) and www.leaveleavesalone.org
Your Lawn’s Impact on Long Island Sound & What to Do
Findings from the Long Island Sound study reveal an urgent threat to the health of the Sound that begins in our yards. Excess nitrogen from rapid release lawn fertilizers is carried into the Sound through run-off, triggering algal blooms and hypoxia that kills fish and plant life. The most damaging of these contaminants come from use – and overuse – of fast acting, high nitrogen products that replace healthy soil building practices with quick fix nutrients that do not support long term sustenance.
What can you do? Start by discontinuing or reducing your use of synthetic fertilizers. Your grass does not require them for robust growth. According to the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, allowing clippings from mowing to drop back onto the grass rather than bagging them can provide 50% of your lawn’s needed nitrogen. Another 50% can be gained by shredding fallen autumn leaves using a mulching mower and spreading them throughout your yard, which will enrich the soil.
Other strategies include reducing the size of your lawn by expanding gardens areas, adding gravel or mulch pathways and incorporating low maintenance native plants. These approaches can increase curb appeal and functionality of your yard while reducing the amount of labor and resources required for upkeep.
Note: As required by New York State law, do not apply any fertilizer
- containing nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorous between December 1 and April 1 or
- within 20 feet of any surface water unless there is a vegetative buffer of at least 10 feet, and
- do not broadcast fertilizer onto sidewalks and roads where it can run-off into storm drains or nearby waterways
Native Violets: Have you seen these flowers popping up in your yard?
Often native violets are considered weeds, unwanted in yards and gardens. They can be invasive, but may be a perfect ground cover for areas where grass will not grow. They are also attractive, prevent the spread of weeds without mulch, and they give butterflies a place to lay eggs and feed their young.
Native violets are the larval host to the Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly. Butterflies are specialists, which means that their young can only eat specific plants—some can only eat one plant! Butterflies need to lay their eggs on leaves that caterpillars can eat, since caterpillars are unable to travel far to find food after hatching. On the other hand, butterflies can travel miles to find a host plant to lay eggs on, and violets are one of the very few plants that the Great Spangled Fritillaries will use.
So, celebrate these lovely natives by finding a spot in your yard for them! Move them where they are needed (a shady spot where nothing else will grow, perhaps) and let them spread. Consider adding them as ground cover in your butterfly garden, where you need larval hosts along with nectar plants for butterflies to thrive. Welcome native violets and you will help support the Great Spangled Fritillary in your own yard while making it more beautiful at the same time. What could be better than that?
How to Manage Weeds in Your Yard
We’ve recently received questions about how to deal with grass that has become weedy without resorting to herbicides. Happily, you can enjoy a healthy yard and beautiful turf.
Start with a Healthy Lawn:
* Test your soil. A healthy yard starts with healthy soil. Have your soil tested -- this can be done through Cornell Cooperative Extension (http://westchester.cce.cornell.edu) --to see whether nutrients are lacking. Do-it-yourself test kits are available, though less accurate.
* Mow high. Many organic lawn experts advise that the best way to reduce the amount of weeds in your yard is to get your grass growing thick and keep it long (3-4”) so that it will shade out any weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting. This also encourages growth of deeper roots, which can compete with weeds more effectively.
* Mulch mow. Keep the blade on your mower sharp and allow the clippings to drop back onto your lawn instead of bagging and removing them. This provides excellent free fertilizer to feed the underlying soil for a more vibrant lawn.
* Water deeply and less frequently. Lawns generally need one or two inches of water per week – through rainfall or irrigation (sprinklers) -- to remain growing during the summer. Deep watering a couple of mornings a week, instead of light watering more often, will promote stronger roots.
* Aerate in the fall. This process reduces compaction, encourages better drainage and improves intake of soil nutrients. Raking compost into the holes in the lawn created during aeration feeds the soil and enhances soil structure. Overseeding at this time (with seed appropriate to your sun conditions) promotes a thicker lawn that can out compete weeds in the spring.
Understand your Weeds:
* Know what they are and what they mean. Weeds can point out problems with your soil, so it’s helpful to know what you have. For example, crabgrass can indicates soil compaction. Here’s guide for identifying some of the most common unwanted plants that may take up residence in your lawn and what you can do to shorten their stay. https://www.thespruce.com/common-lawn-weeds-2132462
* Embrace them with some tolerance. Complete elimination of all weeds is less than optimal, because a bit of meadow can be beneficial. Violets and dandelions are important to pollinators. Deadheading, or removing the spent blossom of dandelions will reduce reseeding.) White clover, which is appealing to pollinators, helps keep the yard healthy by fixing (converting to a usable form) nitrogen in the soil, which feeds the grass.
* Use corn gluten meal for weed prevention. Some people have seen good results by applying corn gluten meal in early spring. This pre-emergent treatment prevents crabgrass and other weeds from sprouting. (Do not spread grass seed for a couple of months after using corn gluten meal.)
* Removing existing weeds. Most weeds are annual and preventing them from coming back in the spring with thick healthy grass will go a long way towards low weed lawn. It may be necessary to hand pull to get as much root out as possible. A mixture of vinegar, salt and dish soap can be sprayed onto the weed in an attempt to kill it, however this will also destroy other plant growth it touches, so for weeds in a lawn apply carefully.
You can remove weeds elsewhere in your yard with a simple solution:
*A simple and highly effective approach to eliminating weeds in your driveway, along pathways and fences is based on a non-toxic solution you can make at home. Combine a gallon of vinegar, a cup of table salt and a tablespoon of dish washing liquid. Mix until dissolved. Pour into a spray bottle and douse the weeds. The soap acts as a surfactant so that the solution can be absorbed by the leaves rather than bead up and remain on the surface. Salt will draw moisture from the weeds and vinegar will cause them to wither.
USE CAUTION when applying this solution. This potent mixture will kill other plant life as well, so avoid spraying anything you’d like to keep, such as grass and flowers.
Mitigating mosquitos without spraying
As we welcome the warmer days of spring, residents become increasingly concerned about the return of mosquitoes to our yards and parks. Personal protection by way of clothing and gentle repellent applied to skin is essential, but there are several non-toxic steps you can take to reduce the irritating presence of these insects.
Remove standing water from your yard:
Mosquitoes only lay eggs in stagnant water and one female mosquito can lay 100 eggs in a tiny amount. Be diligent about removing those breeding grounds from your property. Regularly inspect waste containers, toys, garden ornaments, outdoor furniture, planters, gutters, yard debris, drains and tarps to eliminate standing water.
Avoid saturating your lawn and garden:
Deep, infrequent watering - an inch or two of depth twice each week - encourages deep roots for a healthy lawn that can withstand the stress of hot dry weather later in the summer. Soaking more often can weaken plants and create additional breeding areas for mosquitoes.
Use safe and effective Mosquito Dunks:
These small doughnut shaped disks contain a naturally occurring bacteria (BTi) that is harmless for people, animals and birds, but prevents mosquito larvae from hatching. They are inexpensive and widely available at hardware stores and through online retailers. Place a mosquito dunk in problem areas where water accumulates and replace approximately every 30 days. Dunks can cut the mosquito population by more than 90% in 48 hours and up to 85% for 28 days.
Other non-toxic mitigators:
- Some residents find relief by placing fans in outdoor areas since mosquitoes are too weak to fly into the air current.
- Essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus are known to repel these insects. They can be mixed into water to be sprayed around windows, doors and outdoor seating areas. Aromatic plants like citronella and basil are also known to deter mosquitoes.
- Natural predators include dragonflies, bats and some fish. The Westchester Department of Health has even provided free minnows to residents with ponds and water features to reduce the occurrence of West Nile virus.
- The Gift that Keeps on Giving. As seen in the photo below, a basket of mosquito-repelling flowers makes a great gift or... just to show you care!
- Announcements about Healthy Yards activities, resources and community events
- Guidelines for choosing and working with landscape professionals
- Safe alternatives for maintaining a beautiful garden without pesticides or herbicides