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Bob shares his thoughts on landscaping and the environment

Maple Tar Spot

Seeing spots? On your Maple trees?? My friend Sandy Feather at Penn State Extension – Allegheny County helped me confirm that our three ‘Jefferred’ Autumn Blaze® maples have Maple Tar Spot disease, as well as some small spots that are likely caused by Leafhopper feeding. Regardless of their insect and disease issues, these three trees…

County Fair Season

While we’re already two-thirds of the way through summer, we’re only part way into County Fair season! In order to keep track of all the dates and times of Pittsburgh tri-state events, I created the popular COUNTY FAIR webpage. After a one-year hiatus, it was great to see the return of these popular summer events!…

Steelers Training Camp

Heinz Field is the venue for Steelers training camp in 2021, with free tickets available for 12 more dates through Ticketmaster. These photos were taken on the first day of training camp that was open to the public, Wednesday July 28th. Reserved seats are in the lower levels, on the east side of Heinz Field….

Half Of What You See

You may have heard the old saying, “Believe none of what you hear, and half of what you see.” Great wisdom in that old saying! Case in point is this Ram pickup truck spotted at a traffic light yesterday… must be a really heavy box, eh? Well, as it turns out, I spoke with the…

Wildfires And Box Fans

As shocking as the evening television news videos have been of the wildfires across the western United States and Canada, yesterday’s story in the Seattle Times, by Christine Clarridge, used a Mordor comparison in her title: “Like Mordor: A Central Washington town had the worst air quality in the U.S.” This topic really “hits home.”…

Brown Foam

When the frackers began to ramp- up their fracking activities in our county, just over a decade ago, my greatest pollution concerns were for our streams, rivers and lakes. It made perfect sense then, and even more sense now, as we have seen repeated spills, leaks and documented environmental violations around fracking. Enough so, that…

Poisoning Pennsylvania

We had yet another ‘Stuck on Stupid’ moment this week when news emerged about the use of ‘Forever Chemicals’ in hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and gas wells. Approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency! This comes on the heels of past revelations about the ‘Wild West’ fracking activities we have witnessed firsthand here in…

Household Battery Backup

When we added the first eleven solar panels to our roof three years ago, we also added a Tesla Powerwall 2 (lithium- ion) backup battery (rated at 14 kWh) to the mix. The greatest advantage to me, is the ability of our house to ‘keep the lights on’ during a grid outage, provided: a) the…

Its the Beetles!

Along with Independence Day, Lightning Bugs, and the heat and humidity in western Pennsylvania, July brings back the Beetles! Not the singing type, more the chewing type. These buggers are primarily known for the lawn damage they cause, which seems especially noticeable on lawns with a thick thatch layer. Lawn sod with chewed- off roots,…

More Frac Fluid Fears

While the oil and gas industry is attempting to rebrand some of its fracked gas as being more ‘green,’ and to spin ‘unnatural gas’ in a more positive light, yesterday’s newspaper stories reminded those of us who follow fracking of their long- running, and well substantiated fears about secret frac chemicals, while delivering a ‘gut…

Solar Energy In The Rain

It’s hard to believe that you can get a sunburn on a cloudy day, even though it’s true. Even harder to believe, is that you can produce solar energy on a rainy morning, but that’s also true! That’s right, even though it rained all of yesterday morning, our solar panels still produced 3.3 kWh (3,300…

Going Solar With Large Trees

When we first landscaped our house, nearly 40 years ago, we made sure to plant a large growing Maple on the west side. That planting location came very close to the concept of planting a large deciduous tree on the southwest side of a house, since it will shade and cool the house in summer,…

Lightning Bugs Are Back

While some call them Fireflies or Glowworms, we’ve always called them Lightning Bugs. Here in southwestern Pennsylvania they seem synonymous with the 4th of July, for the timing of their annual nocturnal appearance. True to form, it was nice to see their blinking yellow lights dotting our backyard last night for the first time this…

Motown to Morrison

I was talking about music with a good friend, who is a few years younger, and was a disc jockey back in the day. We both recalled how much we were into Motown recording artists during our high school years. For me and many others, that Motown music is ageless, and still as great as…

Hardening Off

When we schedule outdoor plant maintenance activities, using certain annual holidays as reminders really helps. For the 4th of July, Independence Day holiday, two things come to mind. The first regards daffodils and narcissus Following the Spring blossoms of these hardy bulbs, gardeners are always anxious to remove the remaining foliage. However, those bulbs need…

Birdbath Down

About three weeks ago, we added a new birdbath to our backyard landscape, to help complement the three birdfeeders we added in late winter, when it seemed like the birds deserved some additional food sources, on the tail end of a nasty winter. The birdbath was just beginning to get some use in the midst…

Extreme Heat

The dark red colors on yesterday’s weather map of the Pacific Northwest exemplified the harrowing tale of climate change, with several states and part of Canada, setting new records for extreme heat under what is called a ‘heat dome.’ One recent tweet included this comment: “The normal late June high in Vancouver BC is 21°C…

Adverse Possession

It was 45 years ago, when I first learned of a law in Pennsylvania, known as “adverse possession.” There was property we owned back then, where neighbors had ‘cut a corner’ so to speak, by running their driveway over the corner of our building lot. It got to the point where we had to consult…

4th of July Fireworks

Most people love a great fireworks display, and Pittsburgh just announced there will be fireworks at The Point on Independence Day! Other fireworks events begin as early as tonight in Bethel Park, with others on Saturday July 3rd and Sunday July 4th, 2021. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania celebration will be centered around Point State Park, with…

Death To Lawns?

The perfect home lawn has been the illusive goal of many, and rarely achieved for any length of time by most. You see, new lawns have what is known as a “honeymoon period,” which could be compared to the “7 year itch,” since that’s about how long it takes for most new lawns to begin…

Motocross Is Back!

A revved- up announcer at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris Pennsylvania declared, “Motocross is Back” to a full house of Pro Motocross spectators and fans, who lined the fences and filled the hillsides in southern Greene County Pennsylvania. Saturday 19 June 2021 was indeed, the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at High Point! For…

Storm Damage

Our area was rocked by stormy weather when a cold front came through earlier this week, and more stormy weather is in the forecast for tomorrow. The weather forecast even includes hail. Downed and damaged trees are often highlighted in subsequent TV news broadcasts, with big trees lying on top of damaged houses and automobiles….

Fracking With Fitz

Following a recent protest in front of the City County building in downtown Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald made a few erroneous statements to the Press, according to a recent story by Eric de Place, a research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI) in his blog, “Fact-Checking Fitzgerald on Fracking –…

Compressor Stations

The progression of Marcellus Shale oil and gas development, processing, and export in western Pennsylvania has gone like this: 1. Seismic Surveys – Widespread exploration began with seismic surveys, that used “thumper trucks” and shot holes with explosive charges, to determine what the underground geology looked like for gas drilling and fracking. In our local…

Nonfunctional Grass

In all my many years of landscaping and lawn maintenance, I had never heard the term “nonfunctional grass” until yesterday. That’s the term being used to describe certain turfgrass areas, actually 31 percent of the turf in the Las Vegas area, which can no longer be irrigated, starting 6 years from now in 2027. It’s…

Fracking Setbacks

As more peer- reviewed health studies are completed around unconventional gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing across the United States, more mothers, doctors, and local citizens are calling for greater setbacks from these industrial- grade activities that are used to drill and frac Marcellus Shale oil and gas wells. In Pennsylvania, 500 feet (152 meters) is…

4 Million Reasons

Our Washington County, Pennsylvania has a long, disturbing history when it comes to football field sized impoundments, 15 to 20 feet deep, which are used by the oil and gas industry to ‘hold’ their liquid waste, or should we say, are supposed to hold those wastes, without leaking very much. These huge inground impoundments were…

Code Orange Doubleheader

The weather is playing a doubleheader in the Pittsburgh region this weekend, with Sunday being the second of back- to- back CODE ORANGE weather alerts. Code Orange days cause problems for young children, the elderly, and those with respiratory issues like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. According to Allegheny Health Network’s Dr. Brian Lamb, “It can…

Big Solar Denied

The banner on the Mount Joy Township website, describes the township as “A Community with Rural Character and a Rich History.” Rich history refers to the Battle of Gettysburg, a famous Pennsylvania battle, 158 years ago next month, in the ‘War between the States,’ and more commonly known to Americans as “The Civil War.” The…

Savings and Savings

A recent blog by Barry Kresch, of the EV Club of Connecticut, had this catchy headline: “Tesla Police Vehicle Saves Westport Tens of Thousands of Dollars.” Big Oil doesn’t want to read this story! According to a detailed analysis, the Tesla Model 3 not only saved “tens of thousands of dollars,” it also saved 23.5…

TENORM Mountains

You’ve probably heard of the Allegheny Mountains. Also known as the Appalachian Mountain Range, it extends 400 miles through Pennsylvania, and several other states. As famous as those mountains are, Pennsylvania is now becoming known more for the 30 new “mountains” that it’s creating, from municipal trash and radioactive fracking waste. “TENORM Mountains.” A new…

Long Gone

Paul Urquhart of McMurray, Pennsylvania, volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, and while he is believed to have perished in his Loach helicopter crash, 50 years ago this Memorial Day, his body has never been recovered, so he technically remains “Missing in Action” or M.I.A., until his remains are returned to U.S….

Honoring Tom

It was a local high school student, Brian Hottel, at Peters Township High School, who first raised my awareness of Tom Shipe. A newspaper story said that Brian wanted to create a memorial at the high school to honor Tom, who had never returned to his Peters Township home from Vietnam. After reading of Brian’s…

Canada’s Best

Andrew Nikiforuk’s headline says it best, “The Brutal Legal Odyssey of Jessica Ernst Comes to an End. The Alberta landowner fought an epic battle against fracking interests.” Jessica shares her amazing story on her blog: Ernst v. EnCana Corporation. Andrew Nikiforuk knows her story quite well, from the account of Jessica Ernst’s fight for justice…

Pennsylvania Fracking Reform

Pennsylvania legislators and our Attorney General are promoting new, overdue legislation, to help protect Pennsylvanians from the drilling and fracking of the unconventional oil and gas industry. PUBLIC HERALD has been head and shoulders above the rest of the media outlets, in reporting the deeply troubling story of frac waste in Pennsylvania. In a June…

Pittsburgh’s Best Kept Secret

Packed with beautiful annual flowers, perennials, trees, shrubs and vines, this roadside garden center in the South Hills has it all. Shrubs ‘n Stuf on Library Road (Route 88 in Bethel Park), just south of the entrance to South Park and the first McDonald’s in the United States, has been a shopping mainstay for me…

The Fracking Sandbox – Part 2

In my Saturday May 22 blog ‘THE FRACKING SANDBOX’ we looked at frac sand, from cradle to grave, so to speak. And on that second point, I’m not even sure I pointed out how much of this sand, contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, ends up in landfills like the one in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. The same…

Dragging Hose

Since a great, all day, soaking rain on Mothers Day, our Pittsburgh area weather has been hot and dry, so this is the precise time when watering your outdoor plants can make a real difference. While all the trees and shrubs in the Pittsburgh area have pushed out their new growth, and are now in…

The Fracking Sandbox

In a small township one hour east of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the small town of Red Cedar, Wisconsin. It’s described on their web site as “a local township of 2,204 residents in West Central Wisconsin, located in a peaceful, rural setting amid rolling hills and vast farmland.” The photo above, courtesy of the Frac Sand…

Deadheading Rhododendrons

Seeing the fantastic Spring blossoms on Rhododendrons, brings up the next question, to deadhead or not to deadhead? And probably then, what is deadheading? We’ve been noticing a large number of blossoms on Rhododendrons around western Pennsylvania this Spring, thinking that they are having a banner year! Those flower buds are set during the previous…

Uncommon Beauty

Common shrubs often exhibit uncommon beauty, and Bridal Wreath Spirea is one of those shrubs. The moment to capture a good photo is often very fleeting, whether that timeframe is measured in minutes, days or weeks. With a sky shot, it can be minutes, since the sky changes so quickly, while with shrubs, it’s typically…

Moving Day

With our local weather lady forecasting July- like weather for this coming week around Pittsburgh, it’s time to move my office mates onto the front porch. Before we had all the crazy twists and turns of climate change, I always figured May 20th was our last average Spring frost date. Being within 3 days of…

Returning The Favor

There was a lively debate going on in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, eight years ago, regarding the potential leasing of the DEER LAKES PARK gas rights. Concerned citizens filled the chambers of multiple Allegheny County Council meetings, in an attempt to get a ‘No’ vote for leasing the park. That effort failed, and the park’s gas…

On Deaf Ears

My persistent efforts, and extensively researched comments, were shared with our Washington County commissioners over the past decade, and did nothing to prevent our premiere county park from being used as a ‘cash cow’ to produce revenue, from oil and gas drilling and fracking. Half that money, has traditionally been deposited in the county’s General…

Republicans Love Fracking

A group of environmental reporters, recently polled Pennsylvania legislators, for their reactions on the results of some disturbing health studies, both past and present, regarding those citizens who live in close proximity to unconventional oil and gas well drilling and fracking, primarily in southwestern Pennsylvania. The results were not surprising to me, as a decade…

Crypto Climate Change

Who knew that the next wave of destructive mining would gobble up huge amounts of electricity, further delaying our transition from fossil fuels? Yup, Bitcoin mining. The new energy hog. For those who don’t understand how this 21st Century “mining” works, and why it uses such huge amounts of electricity, read this recent Investopedia explainer,…

Fracked By Zoning

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court will hear arguments on an important case on fracking, as it relates to residential zoning, this Monday. Those who have followed fracking closely in Pennsylvania, over the past decade, recall alarming legislation that was passed by our state legislature, known as ACT 13. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed HB1950 by a narrow margin in early…

Artificial Turf

Artificial Turf and P.F.A.S. Years ago, when our Peters Township high school switched its football field from natural grass to artificial turf, I was asking one of the right questions: Where will the artificial turf get disposed of when it’s replaced after 10 years? There were additional questions I should have been asking. A 2019…

World Class

Sometimes the best is close to home! If I’ve driven past McMurray Nursery once, I’ve driven past there 10,000 times. It’s completely evolved over those 40 years, most recently under the loving care of its third owner, Paul Hauber. Due to extensive work on the nursery’s road frontage over the past year, and the addition…

Nixon’s Army

Today, we commemorate the 51st anniversary of the deaths of 4 college students at Kent State during a Vietnam War protest. Did you know that war was never officially declared in Vietnam, our nation’s second longest war? Did you know that Richard Nixon stalled peace talks to improve his re-election chances in 1972? Today, we…

Top YouTube Videos

My ‘Top 7’ videos (out of 165) in 11 years as a ‘YouTuber’ 1. Draining excess water from a lawn (1 million views) 2. Boxwood 3-minute trim with power shears (987K views) 3. HOW TO: Build a Timber Wall (915K views) 4. HOW TO: Shape a Boxwood shrub (369K views) 5. How the Pros spread…

Fire Blight

Some plants suffer from being ‘pushed’ with too much Nitrogen fertilizer. Fire blight is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora and affects over 100 different plants. It’s generally more serious in Apple and Pear trees in orchards due to loss of production (technical information). First symptoms appear in early spring with temperatures above 60°F when weather…

Rain Gauge

How much rain did we get? Weather can be very localized, so it’s hard to know how much rain you actually got without a rain gauge. Checking our rain gauge this morning, I see we got just over one-inch of rain over the past 24 hours, which is perfect, especially considering that it was a…

Deadwood

Bought a 2x4x8 stud lately? Pennsylvania is known for its hardwood trees, but it’s the softwoods attracting all the attention right now. Spruce, Pine and Fir aka ‘SPF‘ in timber talk. Do-it-yourselfers and home builders are getting stung by a huge rise in lumber prices, due to a ‘perfect storm’ created by climate change, forest…

Tree For Me

A few tips when you are selecting and planting a tree in your yard. If ‘Spring Fever’ has grabbed you like it has me, you’ve probably found yourself at nurseries or big box stores looking at more trees for your yard, even if your yard is already full of trees. LOL. And then there’s the…

Pole Pruning

Other than choosing the right tree for the right place, getting trees off to a good structural start is the most important in their development. The last thing we did before lowering a tall tree into a planting hole was give it a proper pruning. It’s much easier to do then, at eye level, than…

Throw and Grow

The nickname my Penn State professor gave Perennial Ryegrass has stuck with me all these years. Tom Watschke was one of those teachers you were fortunate to have, one of the truly memorable ones through all your years of schooling, due to his knowledge, wit and sense of humor. While writing this blog, I was…

Zoysia Brown

Think twice before planting Zoysia grass on a northern lawn, unless you really like that ‘straw brown’ color. It’s that time of year when newspaper and magazine ads promote the idea of adding Zoysia grass to your lawn. The sales pitch can be quite convincing, but the photo encapsulates what those results look like for…

Shrimp of the Land

This story from New Jersey caught my attention this morning… imagine actually eating those weird looking Cicadas! Billions of 17-year periodical cicadas are predicted to emerge this spring across the U.S. (Shutterstock) Some people call them Locusts, but they are actually Cicadas. You may soon have your chance to dine on them, a thought that never…

Stop and Look

Nature holds many wonders that can be enjoyed without technicalities. It’s really not necessary for someone to know that brilliant fall foliage is on a Maple tree, for them to enjoy the bright, contrasting colors. Only to those studying horticulture, or desiring to plant the exact same tree in their yard, would the precise genus…

Frozen Fragrances

A couple weeks ago, the weatherman was talking optimistically about this week being our average last annual Spring frost (April 23rd), but now he’s forecast up to an inch of snow this morning, with a hard freeze tonight. The snow has already begun to fall. Some Saucer Magnolias bloomed earlier than ours, and got blasted…

Plant Lice

“Plant Lice” is the layman’s term for common plant insects known as Aphids. They come in all colors, and while I’ve most often seen green ones, this Spring they are mostly black in color. I’ve been seeing so many plants with aphids, I’m about to nickname this “The Year of the Aphid!” Distorted new growth…

Ticked Off

As we go outside more often, onto the lawn and into the garden, health reminders about those tiny ticks who can spoil your fun. An April 18th newspaper story by JOE LoTEMPLIO sounded the Spring warning about ticks and Lyme disease. This can be especially important for those of us living in Pennsylvania, since our…

Staying Sharp

Maintaining a sharp lawnmower blade is more important than you think. A clean cut will help your lawn look its best. Key points for proper lawn mowing: Sharpen you rotary mower blade at least once a year, more often if possible. Try not to dull the blade by ‘scalping’ any high soil areas. Use a…

Time to Seed

A more appropriate title would be “Not much time left to seed” if you have a lawn in Pennsylvania, New England, the Midwestern U.S. or Canada. There are basically two times a year that are best for lawn seeding: Spring and Fall. For multiple reasons, I explain why Fall is the best choice on this…

Wrong Tree

Wondering why your tree changed color? A friend recently mentioned that part of his tree was blooming in a different color from the tree he purchased. So what’s up with that? Freak of nature, evolution, or a new discovery perhaps?? Chances are, his case is similar to the photos shared here, of a grafted crabapple…

That Smell

It’s not “that smell” Lynyrd Skynyrd sings about, it’s that funky odor you smell outside on these Spring days. That funky odor caught my nose yesterday while out walking, shortly before I saw the Flowering Pear tree in the above photo. It’s the opposite of that ‘good nose odor’ of Flowering Magnolias, which would also…

Protecting Your Trees

A stringline trimmer aka ‘weed whacker’ can be a tree’s greatest enemy. Just inside that ‘dead looking’ outer bark of a tree trunk is living tissue in need of your protection. Damaging that living tissue can lead to the death of the tree, by opening a pathway to insects and disease. Since Dogwood trees have…

March Gladness

After two terrible months for rooftop solar energy production, it was great to see a $7.29 electric bill for March. On top of frequent and persistent snowfalls keeping our front 18 solar panels covered with snow for the first two months of 2021, solar production is typically lower in the months surrounding the winter solstice…

Fracked in Pennsylvania

Peer reviewed health studies have shown greater health risks for those living within one-mile of a gas well site. Look how close this house is to a well pad! Wastewater impoundments have been an ongoing problem in western Pennsylvania, in fact, I thought they had been banned, until recently seeing this one between Deemston and…

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