Proper Lawn Cutting

Mowing a lawn is not exactly like giving a haircut. Cutting living tissue is stressful under the best conditions, but using a dull blade adds insult to injury, especially on a rotary mower (which we all use) that cuts by brute force, whacking instead of scissoring neatly like the old real mowers.

There is a problem with direct ability of disease organisms to enter the wound. Also, even with a sharp blade, the loss of leaf surface means reduced photosynthesis and reduced ability to take up water. These stresses make the plant weaker and less able to fight off diseases, and they slow down root growth. When the cut is ragged and torn, the increased surface area open to the air means a 10 to 15 percent additional water loss through evaporation, and a longer time to heal. Diseases find it easier to enter a host with weakened defenses.

It is also important to avoid mowing when the grass is wet with dew or rain. Not only are fungal populations higher when it is damp or humid, but the water on the grass impedes the lawn-mower blade, leading to a poorer-quality cut. Again, rotary mowers are bigger offenders than reel mowers under these circumstances.

Cutting grass right also means cutting it the right height. While grass may prefer never to be cut and we may prefer that golf-course greens look, the best compromise for a healthy, good-looking lawn is to cut it 2 1/2 to 3 inches high year-round. And at each mowing, you should only be removing about the top 1/3 of the grass blade. Consequently, a good time to mow lawns is when your grass is about 3 2/3 inches high.

Note: for anyone wanting the “ballpark” effect, take advice from the groundskeepers for the Yankees. A metal bar is attached to the front of the mower to bend the grass as it is cut, leaving it at a slight angle. After being mowed in alternating directions, the grass strips reflect light differently, giving the effect of lighter and darker stripes. But, to see the stripes, you’ll have to put a video camera up a tree and watch your lawn on television. The effect is really just an optical illusion. The small amount of contrast between stripes is enhanced by the angle of view and the camera.

Learn about Herbs: Homegrown Herb Tea

Long day, sore feet, tired of noise: a nice cup of herbal tea is just what the doctor (should) order. Herbal teas, also called tisanes, differ from “real” tea (Camellia sinensis) in that they rarely contain caffeine. Made from herbs, spices, and other plant material, tisanes are soothing and, in some instances, medicinal.

Good herbs for tea that should grow well in your garden include chamomile (leaves and flowers), fennel (leaves and seeds), hyssop (leaves and flowers). For just their leaves, you can grow bergamot, aka bee balm (Monarda didyma), betony (Stachys officinalis), lemon balm, applemint, peppermint, spearmint, and sage. All are hardy to at least zone 5. [Note: watch the spread of any of those plants in the mint family.]

Lemon verbena and scented-leaf geraniums should also thrive to zone 5 in the summer, though they are not frost hardy. And don’t forget rose hips, raspberry and blackberry leaves, and the flowers or elderberries and linden trees (Tilia spp.). Though not usually grown in vegetable gardens, they too are valuable additions to the homegrown tea lover’s pantry.

Remember to dry all of your ingredients well, then store them (as whole as possible) in a dark, cool place until you’re ready to use them, preferably in glass jars.

I’m partial to this post which combines flavor ideas as well as focusing on the healthy aspects of herbal tea:

Harvesting Herbs

Every spring we start with beautiful and fragrant herbs, with visions of cooking up pots of flavorful stews and healthy salads. What I generally end up with, though, are tons of healthy herbs that I dry and use all winter. Either way, it’s good to understand how to use your herbs for the best flavor.

The best time to pick herbs for daily use is when it’s time to use them. Herbs for storage, on the other hand, should be harvested right before the plant flowers, since that’s when the leaves are likely to be most flavorful.

Gather all herbs except basil in mid-morning, shortly after the the dew has dried. Gather basil in the late afternoon; it has better storage properties after a day in the sun. Washing is NOT recommended; it bruises leaves and leaches flavor, but that means the herbs must be grown clean — never treated with pesticides, and protected from splash-ups of soil with a layer of mulch. (If necessary, use a soft brush to remove the occasional aphid or crumb of dirt.)


Cut stems of branching types like basil by a half to two-thirds of their length, making cuts right above joints where you see healthy growth buds. Take outer stems of base-branchers like parsley, cutting them right at ground level. You can continue harvesting annuals until frost takes the plants, but be sure to let a few flowers form on chervil, coriander (cilantro), dill, and borage if you want the plants to self-sow.


Cut as you would branching annuals, but be sure to stop about six weeks before frost so the plants have time to toughen up for winter. (Taking a sprig or two every now and then won’t hurt anything; you just don’t want to force a lot of frost-tender new growth.

Drying Herbs:

You’ve seen the pictures a million times: bunches of dried herbs hanging from the beams in a country kitchen, a beautifully arranged wreath of dried herbs and flowers (or bright red chilies) within snipping distance of the stove. It looks easy and practical, as well as cosy and homelike.

But it’s not really a good idea — unless you plan to use up the goodies in a very short time. Dried foods left exposed in a working kitchen will be magnets for grease and/or dust, and their quality will be degraded by light, heat, and steam. The old-time farmers whose kitchens inspired this look had airier kitchens (no insulation) and lower expectations about cleanliness of the food.

For information on drying your herbs, refer to our earlier post:


Sundial at Kew Botanic Gardens, Richmond, England

I’ve always wanted a sundial in my garden: kind of elegant and very Victorian-ish. As it turns out, though, way older than the Victorian era. The first device for indicating the time of day was probably the gnomon, dating from about 3500 BCE. It consisted of a vertical stick or pillar, and the length of the shadow it cast gave an indication of the time of day. By the 8th century BCE more-precise devices were in use. The earliest known sundial still preserved is an Egyptian shadow clock of green schist dating at least from this period. The shadow clock consists of a straight base with a raised crosspiece at one end. The base, on which is inscribed a scale of six time divisions, is placed in an east-west direction with the crosspiece at the east end in the morning and at the west end in the afternoon. The shadow of the crosspiece on this base indicates the time. Clocks of this kind were still in use in modern times in parts of Egypt. With the advent of mechanical clocks in the early 14th century, sundials with equal hours gradually came into general use in Europe, and until the 19th century sundials were still used to reset mechanical clocks.

So, great history but a sundial still makes a charming garden accent. Whether it is a common horizontal type (meant to be mounted on a pedestal) or the less common perpendicular form (for wall mounting), a sundial must be placed with care.

*It seems obvious, but make sure the spot gets unobstructed sun all day.

*The sundial will be a focal point no matter where you put it, so put it where a focal point makes sense — in the (wide) intersection of two paths, for instance, or at the end of a long axis.

*The mounting spot must be level, and it must be accessible; if you put the sundial in the middle of a flower bed, no one will be able to read it.

*Don’t forget about daylight savings time when you set it up. The sundial should tell the true (sun) time, even though it’s likely to be used mostly in the summer.

*To avoid mistakes, place the sundial provisionally, without affixing it to the spot, and check it every few hours for a couple of days.

Note: the part that casts the shadow is still called the gnomon.