8 opportunities for a great gardening season

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With the 2010 gardening season getting off to the earliest start in years, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this much enthusiasm in the local horticultural scene. With enough new products and trends to match the enthusiasm, here’s my top 8 list of new things to look for when you plan this year’s landscape:

Trees

Trees aren’t new, of course, but the prices are. A glut of trees in the wholesale marketplace from Maine to Georgia has made this a great time for the local industry to purchase a big supply. Many folks are passing on the benefit to consumers.

“We’re seeing some of the best deals we’ve ever had,” said longtime landscaper Al Lappin, whose family has been landscaping around Greater Portland for nearly 40 years. “Because of the way we can buy them, we are able to sell and install them less expensively for homeowners and our commercial customers. So, yes, if you’ve been holding off on buying a tree or trees, now’s the time.”

Weed Killer

With more concern than ever about the danger of pesticides such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, the marketplace is moving faster and faster toward natural solutions. This year, the notoriously toxic Ortho company is beginning to change its ways with the Ortho EcoSense weed killer that is made from a naturally occurring iron.

It’s a selective herbicide, meaning it allows the grass plants to grow, but kills the broadleaf weeds such as plantain, dandelions and clover. This product is a game changer in the lawn industry.

Vegetables

Again, this isn’t new, but the emphasis on growing your own groceries remains hotter than at any time since the Victory Gardens of World War II. The Maine seed companies like Allen, Sterling & Lothrop of Falmouth, Pinetree Seeds of New Gloucester, Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Winslow and Fedco Seeds of Waterville have all expanded their offerings.

Think of growing a lettuce or Swiss chard border instead of annual flowers, or placing a tomato plant at the center of a container garden this year. Or, if you’re more ambitious, tear out some of that lawn and put in some vegetables.

Natural Pest Solutions

In addition to the environmentally friendly weed killer I already mentioned, natural insect controls are more in favor. One of the best new ones is an apple maggot trap for fruit tree growers. Spraying is tedious and, depending on the product, potentially toxic.

Try the Ladd Apple fly trap and lure from GardensAlive.com. I spoke to some people recently who swear by it.

Natural Fertilizer

A company in New Hampshire known as Fire Belly Organics (FireBellyLawnCare.com) has developed a six-step organic lawn fertilization program that can be easily sprayed onto the lawn. Fire Belly reps mail the containers directly to your home just as it’s time to use them.

The ingredients are made from kelp, fish and other natural ingredients. In two years of trials leading up to this year’s launch, customers were thrilled with the results.

Season Extenders

Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden got things started last year. Now, another pilot program at the White House has gardeners extending the limits of the traditional gardening season with hoop houses that offer protection from cold weather and also from garden pests.

The web site for Johnny’s Selected Seeds (JohnnySeeds.com) has a great how-to video on the lower right-hand corner of the home page to show you how to get started.

Mowing Innovation

The tradition manual “reel mower” essentially hasn’t changed in more than a century — until now. The Fiskars company has completely re-engineered the push mower so that it cuts better than any manual machine in history.

This “Momentum” mower can be set to a height of four inches — at least an inch higher than most reel mowers. And because the wheels are in a different location behind the blades, this mower is far easier to maneuver. You’re going to love this mower for a lawn of a half acre or less.

Safe Mosquito Control

The unseasonably warm temperatures, coupled with an abundance of moisture, is most assuredly going to bring a banner season of mosquitoes. A Scarborough company, Go Green Landscaping, is now offering organic mosquito control.

Owner David Melevsky is clearly onto something timely with his company that also offers natural lawn services. My only suggestion is a shorter web site: GoGreenLandscapingAndOrganicMosquitoControl.com!

Paul Tukey is the founder of SafeLawns.org. With comments and questions, you can email him at Paul@SafeLawns.org.

Al Lappin Sr., a long-time landscaper in Greater Portland, stands in front of a cluster of magnolia trees ready for a job. (Contributed photo)

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