Saturday, July 30, 2011

Greetings on a Sunny Summer Day

It's been a long time coming, but always worth waiting for a nice stretch of blue-sky weather in this fantastic region. As I write this in my backyard, with the sun on my back and the sound of birdsong in the gentle breeze, the recent cloudy days seem eons away. To tell the truth, the time I spend outside each year in with Magnuson Nature Programs - in all kinds of weather- has gradually changed my perspective on what Mother Nature sends our way. Even the cool rainy days usually hold a few beams of sunshine or some fabulous cloud formations, and aren't as bad to be outside in as they look from inside your windows. I have learned a lot about this by watching the children I work with, so I invite you to go outside on our next rainy day to enjoy the weather, as well as on this sunny weekend! (Of course, for maximum pleasure make sure you have a good raincoat and comfortable rubber boots on, and then get as muddy as you want...!)

The Himawari Project
Are you growing sunflowers in your garden this year? If so, please consider donating the seeds from your flower heads to the Himawari Project. Himawari is the Japanese word for Sunflower, which have the amazing ability to absorb radioactive cesium from contaminated soil, thereby neutralizing its effects. The Himawari Project will send sunflower seeds grown in the Pacific Northwest to the farmers of Northern Japan. The seeds will be planted in their fields next year to help heal the nuclear contaminated lands. Besides absorbing the cesium, the mature sunflower plants can be used to make biodeisel fuels. The Himawari Project sends a powerful message of caring, hope, and beauty to our friends in Japan who have suffered so much this year. The Magnuson Jr. Nature Explorers Program is a proud participant, and we are growing a "Sunflower Forest" in the Children's Garden as part of our summer camps and special events.

New Wildlife-friendly Landscape Program
This summer, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched a pilot program to certify landscape professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced in the field of wildlife-friendly design. For many years, NWF has been a worldwide leader in teaching individuals and educational institutions about how to create wildlife-friendly landscapes in their own backyards, schoolyards, and public spaces. They were a big inspiration to me when I designed and built my own garden and had it certified in 1995 by NWF and the WA State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife as one of the first Backyard Wildlife Habitats in this region. Today, I am delighted to announce that I am one of only 3 people in Washington State who have already completed the study course and testing, and been designated as a NWF Certified Landscape Professional. I have always encouraged my clients, audiences, and students to consider certifying their garden as a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, and being involved in this pilot program has me even more motivated to do so. NWF has set the goal of certifying 150,000 new habitats this year, and this professional certification program includes a two-fold approach to help fulfill that goal:
  1. Providing NWF members, other property owners, and educational institutions who want to create wildlife habitat with referrals to qualified professionals who can help them to successfully achieve this. In the Garden for Wildlife section of their website, NWF now has a "find a landscape professional" link which sends viewers to a new webpage with referrals to the certified professionals in their area.
  2. Providing support for qualified landscape professionals so that their existing and new clients can more easily certify their own gardens as Backyard or Schoolyard Wildlife Habitats. NWF has recently provided me with a wonderful array of colorful, easy-to-use instructional guides on everything from attracting butterflies to building nest boxes, and more. I will be glad to provide these to you electronically or in printed form, whichever you prefer. NWF has also provided me with a good supply of printed applications. If you are an existing client and want to certify your garden, I will be glad to help you fill out the form! The $20.00 application fee includes a 1-year NWF membership, which gives you additional benefits and helps support a very worthwhile non-profit organization.
The process and results of designing wildlife-friendly landscapes has been a constant inspiration for me through the past 15+ years, and I am sure this will continue to grow stronger. I will soon complete the design for an exciting new project: a Resource Conservation Demonstration Landscape on the slopes surrounding Magnuson Community Center. This project will illustrate and educate the public about beautiful ways to build healthy soil, control erosion, and improve water quality, as well as additional ways to provide wildlife habitat!

FREE Trees for Your Yard!

The Trees for Neighborhoods program is happy to offer free trees to Seattle residents again this year. You can request up to FOUR trees to plant in your yard (street planting strip is possible, but you must let the program manager know). There's a great selection to choose from (evergreen and deciduous, small and medium/large and one fruit tree option), with trees available for pick up starting in late October. In addition to your tree(s), you will receive a watering bag for each tree, training on proper planting and care, and a coupon for a free bag of Gro-Co compost.

Seattle currently has 23% tree cover and a goal to reach 30% tree cover - and gain the many benefits that go along with trees. But we can't reach that goal without the help and support of Seattle's residents! Apply for your free trees soon, the application will be open beginning August 8.

Summer Watering Tips:
Though we have had a cloudy July, keep in mind that the rainfall totals for the month are less than 1 inch! New plantings need approx. 1 inch per week, so if you haven't watered your garden much yet, it's time to check your soil moisture. Your best tool is your index finger, or a small hand shovel. Newly-planted trees, shrubs, and perennials need supplemental water if the soil is dry when you probe 2 inches below the soil surface. Established plants can handle the top 4 inches being dry before watering. The clouds can easily fool us all into letting our plants start to suffer from drought stress.

Water in the early morning in order to get the most from your time and money, and avoid inviting slugs in for a comfy nocturnal feast. The soil will have absorbed the water by the time evaporation loss arrives, plants will start off the day hydrated enough to handle the afternoon heat, and the dry soil surface won't be as easy for slugs to cross by nightfall.

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning and Health Care
August is a great time to prune fruit trees. They will soon be slowing down their new growth or stopping it altogether, and pruning doesn't produce as many new water sprouts and other rampant growth like it sometimes does earlier in the year.

According to City Fruit, the fungal disease called Scab is apt to be a larger-than-normal problem this year due to the wet spring. For that reason, it's especially important to remove all the fruit (edible and otherwise) from your trees during harvest, and to rake up all fallen fruit and fall leaves so that the spores don't overwinter on or below your tree and reinfect it next spring. Summer pruning also has the benefit of allowing more light and air into your tree canopy, and less of a "humidor" for fungal spores to reproduce in.

There seems to be a less-than-normal plum crop, probably due to wet weather during the pollination windows, which kept the bees and other pollinators from getting to the flowers before they fell. Like Plums, pears and apples may also be fewer for that reason, depending on the variety. Hope yours are the exception, and bearing very well!


NWF Certified Landscape Professional, member of the Washington Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) and the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW)