The 4-Step Solar Mowing Special

Crocuses are disappearing, forsythia is in full sunny bloom, and grasses are waking up. We’re preparing for the 2015 growing season by cleaning our equipment, sharpening/replacing mower blades, and by rejuvenating customers’ lawns with the Solar Mowing Special, a four-step process. Here’s how it works:

By thinning the dead material lying on top of the soil, we improve the success of new grass seeds and open up the soil enhance nutrient penetration into the soil.

By removing dead material lying on top of the soil, we improve the success of new grass seeds and enhance the soil’s ability to take in water, air, and nutrients.

  1. “Comb” the lawn with special rakes (both bamboo and metal) to thin out the thatch, or layer of dead plant material, which builds up over time and prevents water, air, and nutrients from permeating the soil.
  2. Apply grass seed mixed with an organic fertilizer. Our fertilizer contains nitrogen, potassium, and all other essential elements; more than 70 trace elements, including manganese and zinc; and beneficial microbes (critical for soil health).
  3. Topdress with a thin (eighth-inch) layer of compost.
  4. Water well; this activates the microbes and helps work the nutrients into the soil.

Afterward, it’s critical that the soil stays moist. This usually means twice daily light waterings. After the grass seeds germinate, watering can be done once daily; less often if it rains, of course.

Reseeding this time of year can reduce the spread of weeds by filling in those bare and thin spots where weeds find refuge.

Let us know if you’d like the four-step SolMow Special this spring — or in the fall.

And if you’re waiting to hear the roar and see the smoke of our engines as we begin mowing, fuggedaboutit. Our mowers purr and emit nothing. smilingsunSMALL

The Wind Down

Grass does most of its growing during the mild, wet days of spring. Then, if you’re a blade of grass, you tend to go into a summer slump in late July and August when temps rise and little rain falls. This summer, however, our lawns entered no such slump. Lower temps and moderate rainfall throughout most of late summer kept grass growing like spring.

Finally now in mid-October, grass is starting to slow down. Though not until average daily temps sink to 50 degrees or below will growth stop. And roots will continue to grow and take up nutrients until the ground freezes. (We mowed our last lawn in 2013 on November 5.)

This is the best time of year to reseed bare spots in your lawn, overseed thin patches, and apply fertilizer. An organic fertilizer applied now will feed grass roots unlike in the spring when fertilizer tends to increase topgrowth and the number of required mows.

Judy'sLeavesSolar Mowing provides these services as well as fall leaf cleanup.

Our mulching mowers will turn some of your leaves into food for your grass and soil. We use rakes and emission-free blowers to pile the rest along curbs for pickup and/or to put in your compost area. Contact us for price info and to get on the schedule.

Emission-free mowing remains our bread and butter, but largely guided by our customers, we continue to expand into other safe and effective lawn and garden care services.

Cluck. Cluck. Who’s there?

You want to be a good land steward, so you’ve planted natives that attract pollinators. You’re growing veggies and herbs, organically. You’ve hired Solar Mowing, an emission-free mowing company, to care for your grass. What’s next?

RentACoop owners Diana Samata and Tyler Phillips started renting their coops in 2012.

How about fresh eggs from your own backyard chickens?

Local company RentACoop makes that next step pretty darn easy to take. Owners Tyler Phillips and Diana Samata build and rent chicken coops complete with hens, organic feed, and bedding (pine shavings). Fully vented, easy to clean, and predator proof, the coops fit in the back of most minivans, but the company also delivers.


“One of the sweetest and most docile breeds out there,” says Tyler Phillips of his Golden Comet hens.

And yes, keeping hens (but not roosters) is legal in both Montgomery County, MD, and D.C. Restrictions on where you can place a coop get tossed aside when the chickens are considered pets, and the hybrid Golden Comet used by RentACoop are super family-friendly. And hardy. Golden Comets continue to lay eggs during the freezing temps of winter.

If you decide after four weeks (the average rental time) that you want to buy the coop, hens, etc., part of your rental fee goes toward the purchase price.

This business idea was not a big stretch for Tyler, a native of Potomac, MD. He grew up working on his parents’ traveling petting zoo, so it was only natural. Just like your yard.




Good Government

GreenBizTransBkgrdThe two men sat across the dining room table from me and asked what time of day I buy gasoline for my truck when air quality is poor. They asked how much water and what kind of soap I use when washing my equipment. My answers — late in the day IF I must buy gasoline on code alert days and little water and biodegradable soap some of which flow into the rain garden adjacent to my driveway — were met with approving nods. These men were not members of Friends of the Earth or a neighborhood association. They were Montgomery County officials, looking over my equipment and my application to be a county certified “green business.”

To those of us running green businesses, the certification is a stamp of approval from local government, which shares our values for environmental stewardship, conservation of energy and water, carbon and waste reduction, recycling, and environmentally responsible purchasing.

Consumers seeking to hire green businesses can go the county website and search its directory. For local business owners wanting to green their operations, the Program offers resources to help them.

“Grass clippings that land in the street need to be blown up onto the grass,” Doug Weisburger, Program Manager reminded me, “Otherwise, they’ll make their way down storm drains and add to nitrogen pollution of the Bay.”

That’s my County talking.

At exactly 9:50 a.m. on June 20, 2013, Solar Mowing was certified as a “Green Landscape Business,” a distinction that is valid for three years.

The World’s Tallest Grass Grows in My Yard —— Yours, too?

So far, no one’s called me to mow their bamboo, but it could happen. Bamboo, as you may know, is a member of the grass family. A really tall member. And in my backyard (and maybe yours?), some of these tall grasses make their home.

This four-inch tall bamboo shoot needs a swift kick before it hardens and grows tall.

May is Control Bamboo Month as soft shoots, like this one, get the boot.

Bambusa vulgaris, also known as Golden Bamboo, grows along my back fence, forming a wall about 25 feet long and high and four feet deep. The tall stems, or culms, droop in large arcs during rain storms. In heavy snow, the tips of the arching culms get stuck, forming a tunnel that will last until the snow and ice melt. In spring and summer, flocks of birds (starlings and robins mostly) roost in the thick foliage.

All good, except it’s not. Bamboo is extremely invasive. If not for our springtime stomping tradition, the neat green wall would easily overtake our .33 acre.

Hundreds of bamboo shoots spring(!) up each May from a network of underground stems called rhizomes. The shoots are watery and soft and with a slight kick, I can knock them flat. If I don’t catch a shoot in its first few days, however, it hardens and getting rid of it may require a hand saw.

If you think your grass grows fast, consider this: A bamboo shoot can grow more than two inches in a day. Most reach their full height, 15-30 feet, in a single growing season.

Weighed down by snow, bamboo stems, or culms, form a lovely arch.

The evergreen stems, or culms, form a lovely arch after a heavy snow.

Getting rid of bamboo involves lots of digging and even herbicides, so I’ve learned to live with this evergreen wall. I would never advise planting bamboo, but with annual diligence, it can be contained. For more info, including eradication options, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas.

A Path Runs Through It —— and We Get to Mow It

Meadow. So soothing a word, it should be listed as a synonym for soothing. And while I’ve written in an earlier post that lawns are the meadows in our everyday landscapes, even I know they aren’t real meadows — those self-sustaining habitats jumping with insects, birds, and butterflies, where tall feathery grasses and colorful flowers dance in the wind.

The meadow sits along Jones Bridge Road at Woodend, Audubon Naturalist Society's Woodend Sanctuary. The deer exclosure is on the left.

The meadow, along Jones Bridge Road at Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary, was starting to green up when the path was first cut on April 27. Part of the deer exclosure is on the left.

The difference is clear when every ten days or so, we visit a real — albeit baby — meadow at Woodend, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s (ANS) 40-acre Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, MD, to mow the path meandering through it.

“Years ago, before the extreme pressure of deer and invasive plants, our meadows were chock full of a wide variety of plants and the birds, butterflies, and other insects that relied on them for food and shelter,” says Lisa Alexander, ANS’s executive director. “Today, as we work to increase the variety of native plant species in the meadow, we eagerly hope for the return of bird and insect diversity, too.”

When ANS decided to restore this meadow, they sought advice from Larry Weaner, a landscape architect who specializes in native plants, and Dr. Jennifer Murrow, a wildife biologist at the University of Maryland, because meadow-making is more than pulling up some weeds and throwing down some seed.

By our second cut on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

By our second mowing on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

“It was decided to use a mini bulldozer to lightly scrape off the top layer of soil and eliminate the dense root mats of invasive plants,” said Alexander. “We’re eager to see if anything sprouts from the seed bank below the layer we scraped off.”

In addition, volunteers, overseen by ANS’s Sanctuary Committee, planted more than 1,600 quart-size pots of grasses and flowers and more than 1,750 plugs (small, young plants). The group also erected a large temporary exclosure in a corner of the meadow, which will show how a meadow grows without deer browsing on it.

“A great deal of effort was devoted to finding plants not only native to our region but also grown from seed collected in our region,” said Marney Bruce, a volunteer on the Sanctuary Committee.

The funds for the project are from an anonymous donor; the soil is in the hands of dozens of (mostly) volunteers.

ANS chose Solar Mowing to mow the path because our machines are lightweight, quiet, and most important, non-polluting, and we are more than willing to help prevent the spread of weeds by wiping down the blade and underside of the mower and picking debris out of the wheel treads before we mow. (That I worked at ANS for eight years as Communications Director also may have had something to do with it. :))

What a treat to have a small part in this wonderful stewardship project. Watch for future posts on ANS’s meadow-making.

Off to a Purring Start

The 2014 growing-mowing season began this past week with temperatures that ranged from 28F to 86F. All mowers have new blades, some mowers sport new wheels, and both (blades & wheels) are turning by batteries charged by solar and wind power. “So quiet,” one new customer crooned. Here’s a look at the start of the 2014 growing-mowing season.

Dylan uses a string trimmer to neaten the border between bed and grass.

A solar-charged string trimmer is used to tidy borders between beds and grass.

We mow high (3-3.5 inches) and leave the finely chopped clippings on the grass as a fertilizer.

We mow high (3-3.5 inches) and leave the finely chopped clippings on the grass as a fertilizer.


We took on several mulching and reseeding jobs this spring. Here, we added a layer of compost before applying mulch to enrich the soil of this planted bed.






Regular mowing will weaken these common wild onion/garlic plants, which will die back in early summer. But now, you can dig 'em up, and after cleaning and chopping, throw 'em in your pasta sauce. Consider these “weeds” part of your edible landscape!

Regular mowing will weaken these common wild onion/garlic plants, which will die back in early summer. But now, you can dig ‘em up, and after cleaning and chopping, throw ‘em in your pasta sauce. Consider these “weeds” part of your edible landscape!

Lipstick on a Pig: An Electric Mower Powered by Coal

It’s true that if you trade in your gas-powered mower for an electric one that you’ll reduce polluting emissions — in your yard.

coalcreekdistantLipstickYESYou won’t smell the emissions or breathe the pollutants into your lungs, but you’ll still be creating them. That’s because most of us in the Mid-Atlantic get our power from coal. And coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide emissions and a leading cause of smog and air pollution.

So, if you want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and clean the air, use an electric mower charged with renewables. (Sounds like a business I know.) With little fuss, you can switch to wind for your home or business through Ethical Electric, a local company that provides clean energy options in our area.

My advice: Don’t buy an electric lawn mower if you don’t likewise sign up for renewable energy. Better yet, sign up for renewable energy, but don’t bother buying an electric lawn mower. Save that money and your time by hiring Solar Mowing to do emission-free mowing for you.

Why Solar Mowing?

FACT:  In an hour, ONE typical gasoline-powered mower spews as much pollution as ELEVEN cars.

This shocks people. The truth is that lawn mowers and other small-engine machines were not regulated until 1997.  Any poor soul with a lawn mower that predates 1997 is polluting as much as 40 cars with every hour of use!

So, newer gasoline mowers are cleaner. But how clean?

twomowersThe latest EPA regulations (Phase 3), which mower manufacturers have to meet by 2015, will reduce emissions by 30-35%. This means those new mowers will pollute as much as 7-8 cars every hour. Clearly, not clean enough.

What pollutants are we talking about? Hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen (principle ingredients of smog), particulate matter (damaging to the respiratory system), carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (contributors to climate change).

And then there’s the spillage. Of the 800 million gallons of gas that Americans pour into their lawn mower engines each year about 2% gets spilled — and seeps into our groundwater and evaporates into our air.


No, don’t mow with that loud, stinky machine!

One more thing about gas-powered mowers: At 85-90 decibels, they are harmful to the person mowing and to others in the yard as well as annoying to neighbors. The EPA recommends that people mowing their lawns with gas-powered mowers should wear ear protection.

Electric mowers cut the sound in half, at least. If I’m mowing in the front yard and someone else is mowing in the backyard, I can’t hear the back mower. Likewise, many customers say that they were home when we mowed, but never heard us.

That’s music to my ears.