Posted by & filed under Deflecting sound, Health & Wellness, Masking noise, Nature and Stress Reduction, Noise pollution, Sound abatement, Uncategorized, Water features, White noise .

The Sunday before Easter was beautiful here — an absolutely perfect day for working leisurely in the yard. About ten minutes into our afternoon, the peace and quiet of the day was shattered by the the deafening roar of a neighbor’s leaf blower running full blast. The first hour was unpleasant but tolerable. The second hour moved up a few notches to annoying, the third hour was miserable and by the fourth, our neighborly politeness gave out and we checked out the city’s noise ordinance. Had it been a one time occurrence, I could have let it go, but he’s spent every weekend since then running that machine for hours on end. The noise is threatening to keep us prisoners in our house all summer.





Although we realize and decry the effects of smog-filled air or contaminated water, there is another form of pollution that we may not take seriously. Noise pollution, which is explained as “unwanted or excessive sound that can have deleterious effects on human health and environmental quality” has become a significant problem not only here in the United States, but also world-wide. It poses health risks for humans and is now known to play a role in the alteration of our world’s ecosystems and the potential extinction of some species.



Sound is measured in decibels which are the units used to measure the intensity of a noise.  Total silence is 0 dB, a normal conversational voice is 60 dB and a gas-powered lawn mower or leaf blower is 80 – 85 dB. An approaching subway car or the noise at a sporting event can average 100 dB, while American music events, especially rock concerts can easily reach 120 – 140 dB.



Hearing loss from sustained noise levels has been documented for centuries. Medical records of hearing loss by copper workers and blacksmiths exist from as far back as the 1700s. Today, experts advise that prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 dB or above can not only result in hearing loss and damage to the ears, but it can also contribute to other serious health conditions. Anxiety, depression, high stress levels and increased aggression are tied to noise pollution, as are headaches, fatigue and high blood pressure.



Noise pollution has been termed a “modern plague” for children. For infants and young children, constant noise can affect language skills, including speech development, and cognitive functioning. Studies have shown that with continued exposure to noise,  difficulties with reading, problem-solving, short-term memory and listening skills can continue into adolescence and then adulthood.



This “modern plague” is now recognized as a threat to wildlife — both large and small — as well. Science has confirmed that sounds made by ships and those from underwater drilling affects marine life. Whales are known to stop vocalizing while dolphins, porpoises and other species stop foraging. Spawning patterns are disrupted and migration paths are altered. At the other end of the spectrum, in a controlled study at Mississippi State University, lady beetles exposed to loud noise significantly reduced their consumption of aphids. A lack of pest control by beneficial insects could reduce crop production by as much as 25% and upset the ecological balance.



Unfortunately, with urbanization on the increase, the reality is that many of us are subjected to unwanted and potentially harmful noises on a daily basis. Although they may not be completely eliminated, a few landscaping techniques can help reduce unwanted noise and restore an aura of peace and quiet to your home.



There are four common approaches to sound modification that designers use: absorption, deflection and reflection, refraction and masking.




Often used in large areas, this method reduces sound intensity by trapping sound waves within plant material. The leaves, branches and even bark of plants absorb sound. Plants with many branches, large, fleshy leaves and rough bark work well for sound absorption. Broadleaf evergreens like holly and viburnum are excellent choices since they retain their foliage throughout the winter and have branches that extend from the very bottom to the top. To achieve maximum benefit, the barrier planting should be quite dense, as close to the source of the noise as possible, and planted in thick layers.





Fences and other partitions can block sound waves from entering a space and cause them to bounce back toward their source. Rigid, dense walls (think masonry like brick or concrete) send the waves straight back toward the source, while flexible walls (like corrugated metals or fiberglass) tend to vibrate and cause sound waves to bounce off in a multitude of different directions. Combining plant material for absorption with walls and fences creates an even stronger sound barrier and visually softens hard surfaces.






When sound waves hit  flat, hard surfaces and are trapped in a confined space, they tend to become magnified and cause echoes. Those same sound waves are naturally dissipated, or scattered, eliminating echoes whenever they hit a rough surface. Adding grass or ground covers, vining plants and overhanging trees can help to cover flat spaces with rough surfaces and reduce the magnification of sound waves.  Although many of today’s designs include sleek, modern materials for looks, understand that these types of surfaces can work to heighten noise pollution in high traffic, urban spaces.





Including a source of white noise in the landscape, especially if it is combined with the other methods of noise abatement, can be especially effective. Water features that include splashing or falling streams can cover unpleasant sounds and can offer an almost irresistible sense of peacefulness. Some plant materials also offer white noise as the breeze blows through their leaves. Ornamental grasses provide both subtle sound and enticing movement while trees like aspens rustle gently in the breeze. Welcoming birds, frogs and other wildlife to the landscape brings in the sounds of nature to obscure harsh city sounds.





Whether it is a constant problem or an intermittent annoyance, noise pollution can be addressed with a few fundamental landscaping techniques. Share your concerns with your designer; a qualified professional like those at Embassy Landscape Group will be able to offer you effective solutions that will help reduce the city clamor and fit your budget.


Posted by & filed under Beneficial insects, Praying mantis, Uncategorized .



Some say that finding  this insect in your home means that angels are watching over you, while others say that if one looks at you with a menacing glare, it foretells your death. The French thought it would lead a lost child home again. Folklore aside, the praying mantis is a fascinating visitor to the garden.



There are about 2,000 species of praying mantis world-wide, with only a few (less than 20) being native to this continent. Native praying mantis, like their introduced counterparts, tend to be green, brown or grey in color for camouflage purposes, but are usually smaller and somewhat more slender. Both native and introduced mantis are what are called ambush hunters and hold their front legs in what appears to be a prayerful position, but is actually an efficient striking pose. Praying mantis are agile, able to target and jump to a spot with the precision of an athlete. Their vision is excellent and they are able to turn their heads a full 180 degrees.



Here in Missouri,  Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) are the most common of the native species, and are usually seen in late summer or early fall.  They are typically grey, brown or tan in color and reach only about 2 ½ inches at full maturity. Females lay eggs in the fall and attach their eggs sacks to branches, where the sacks remain until the eggs hatch in the spring.



Voracious eaters, they do not discriminate between harmful or beneficial insects, but instead consume whatever they catch. Favorite foods though, are live flies, wasps, bees, bugs and caterpillars. They also eats butterflies and moths.





Because  mantis are cannibalistic and carnivorous, nectar and pollen-producing plantings are of little interest to them. Instead, they primarily frequent bushes, shrubs and plants with woody stems that are near the types of flowering plants which attract their prey. Although they are capable of flying, mantis spend much of their time being still and waiting for dinner to come within striking distance. When they do decide to attack, it is with lightning speed.


Posted by & filed under deer, Deer Resistant Plants, Gardens, Groundhogs, Nuisance animals, Uncategorized .

For the past two weeks  — ever since I planted my first round of pansies (on my third right now) — the resident urban wildlife and I have been in hand to paw combat. They are determined to devour every plant that I put in and I am determined to thwart them. Unfortunately, since my go-to solution of blood meal applications isn’t working because of the periodic rains we’ve been having, they are winning the war right now.  I am going to have to employ some new strategies.




Although violence typically isn’t part of my nature, I have to admit that it has crossed my mind. I’ve even found myself at the hardware store staring at the shelf holding the poison peanuts. Luckily, the voice inside my head stopped me because poison peanuts not only kill rodents, they can be harmful for children, pets, birds and other beneficials.



Looking for more humane solutions, I headed to my “earth-friendly” sources. Each gave the traditional solutions such as:

  • Build a fence
  • Set a trap
  • Add a motion detector sprinkler (I can foresee what would happen if I tried that!)
  • Include noise-making structures
  • Spread bloodmeal, coffee grounds or human hair
  • Hide objects with strong scents
    • Soaps
    • Cotton balls soaked with predator urine
    • Corn cobs soaked in vinegar
    • Milorganite mulch
    • Black pepper oil
  • Sprinkle hot pepper flakes
  • Hang dryer fabric softener sheets or spray liquid fabric softener solution



At one time or another throughout my gardening years I have tried mosl of these options. They all worked, for a time, but had to be switched out when the sneaky little garden pests figured them out. Even my fencing eventually fell prey to their determination.



There are however, several options that are more effective for controlling animal gluttony over the long-term. The most direct method to keeping animals from your yard is to simply never plant their favorite foods. Totally eliminate hostas, daylilies, pansies, impatiens and most tender, young vegetable plants as well as a host of other favorites.



Since this is not a welcome suggestion, another way to try and limit animal damage is to give the wildlife an alternative food source away from the desirable garden. When given a choice, deer and rabbits would usually rather munch on a field of clover, dandelions or even tender, succulent bluegrass than pansies. If that field of clover is located in a space that provides them some cover from predators, then they are even more likely to choose it first. If you have the space, try planting a plot out of the sight and smell of your garden and then border your desirable garden with a strong-smelling plant like mint or thyme that urban wildlife tend to avoid.



A third idea to limit wildlife consumption is to plant varieties that are unappetizing to rabbits, deer, groundhogs and other animals. Distasteful plants tend to have strong scents, bitter tastes, prickly thorns or furry foliage. They may also have thick leaves and produce sticky sap. Even though animal-resistant plants usually have one or more of these characteristics, none of them are completely animal-proof. Remember too that some undesirables are fairly toxic — that’s what makes them undesirable in the first place — and can be harmful to children and pets if consumed. Use those with caution in your garden.




Finally, some of the newest research indicates that limiting the amount of fertilizer you apply throughout the season can help control animal snacking in your yard. Excess nitrogen produces nutrient-rich, appetizing foliage. Lush vegetation is more likely to be foraged than slightly stressed plants. 




I’ve included a short power point of annuals, perennials and herbs that are known to be animal pest resistant. There are of course, many others that can work just as well, especially for regions outside the Midwest. Many states also publish lists through their Departments of Conservation or Extension Services.



Making your garden animal-resistant doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to the plants on this list. You can still enjoy your favorites by interplanting the resistant ones with your personal favorites.



I’m hoping these suggestions help to give you some relief from the frustrating battle gardeners fight with animal damage. If you have a different solution to the problem, we’d love to hear it! We will be looking for your suggestions.


Posted by & filed under Bees, Beneficial insects, Bumblebee, Insects, Pollinator Gardens, Uncategorized .

Fast moving, noisy, yellow and black bumblebees are part of our native insect population. Here in North America there are currently 46 species of bumblebees, while worldwide there are 250 species. Because of habitat fragmentation and loss, pesticide use and diseases, the number of bumblebees is declining.



Although they are large and look somewhat intimidating, bumblebees are really gentle giants. They are not aggressive unless they or their nests, which can be underground or in brush piles or trash heaps, are threatened.



This familiar garden visitor is an important pollinator both for home gardens and for agricultural operations. In fact, female bumblebees have special pollen baskets on their last pair of legs designed to assure transportation of pollen. In nature, bumblebees are generalist feeders that can withstand cooler temperatures, allowing them to become active in late winter and  to continue their work throughout the spring, the summer and into the late fall. They are experts at dislodging pollen from flowers that other pollinators cannot reach, such as the blooms on tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Some greenhouses even bring bumblebees inside to assist in pollinating the crops.



Like European honey bees, bumble bees are social bees, living in small colonies with one queen. Unlike the honey bee whose queen can live for an average of three years, bumblebee queens live for only one year. Honey bee colonies are known for the amount of honey they produce, while bumblebee colonies produce little honey.



To ensure that your garden is an excellent habitat for bumblebees, follow these guidelines.

  1. Plant a variety of nectar and pollen rich herbs and flowers such as catmint, lavender, thyme, snapdragons, bleeding heart, salvia, purple coneflowers, and sweet peas.
  2. Plant flowers of the same variety in broad swathes so that the bees don’t have to expend too much energy traveling from bloom to bloom.
  3. Add red or white clover to your lawn area.
  4. Provide an informal space for nesting. An underground nesting spot with a small entry point that is located in a quiet, undisturbed area is ideal.