75 Amy Cox – Eco-lawns and Pollinators (in English)

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Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators.

I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. The rains have returned to Western Oregon and this is a great time of year to establish a new lawn. And as you know from previous episodes of Pollination, turf grass, and pollinators actually can go together. With all those lawns starting to establish, I thought it would be a great opportunity to air a show that I recorded in the summer with Amy Cox, who's one of three co-owners of Pro Time Seed. Now, as you'll hear in this episode, took over the company and the founders of the company developed this original flowering lawn called Fleur de Lawn that's used all across the United States and into Canada. So in this episode, we're going to hear a little bit about how Oregon businesses can get involved in helping pollinators. In this episode, we're going to hear about how you get these lawns established, how they're a little bit different from regular lawns, and how they have tremendous benefits in terms of low maintenance, looking good through the summer, but also attracting pollinators. This episode, I'm proud to say, was recorded in a Northeast Portland backyard. So let's drop in and let's hear a little bit more about establishing pollinator lawns. Welcome to Pollination.

Speaker 2: Well, thank you. Thank you for having us.

Speaker 1: So we're here today to talk about lawns and lawns that attract pollinators. Great. And so you guys have been doing this for a long time. Tell us a little bit about how you got started with this. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Well, Hobbs and Hopkins Pro Time were here over 40 years ago, and we came into the business about four years ago when the founder was looking to retire and he was looking for someone that was going to carry on the great work that they've done in E. Colan. And we were really happy to find it. It was kind of serendipity, really, right place, right time. And we were all very interested in the potential that E. Colans have for conservation and, you know, to contribute, continue to contribute to this great idea.

In fact, in the last four years, we've come up with 17 new mixes that we think are great E. Colans for all different types of situations that people can try. Mm-hmm.

Speaker 1: You personally, like, why are you interested in doing this? This is one of many occupations that one could do. Yes.

Speaker 2: Well, and I've tried a few. You know, I think I've always wanted to do something that helped other people. And so for a long time, that was affordable housing. Oh, wow. But now it's, you know, turned into something that can not only help people, but animals, insects, the environment. And I think that's the reason that I can get up and do this every day and feel good about it.

Speaker 1: And today we are in a lot... What part of town are we in? Hollywood. We are in the Hollywood... We're in Hollywood today. Hollywood District in Northeast Portland, and we're looking at a lawn here. Tell us a little bit about this lawn. Yes.

Speaker 2: This is a stunning example of Florida lawn, the original ecology lawn. It has, oh gosh, seven different species in it, and it's a great pollinator lawn. But it's also a lawn that is beautiful, comfortable, a lot of uses for it.

Speaker 1: And I could just... I'm looking here. I see bumblebees, I see honeybees. There are lots of them. There's a lot... This lawn is in full bloom right now.

Speaker 2: It is. It's fantastic. And even into almost July, we still have a lot of blooming going on and a lot of green understory.

Speaker 1: Oh yeah, things are starting to dry. Things are starting to get drier. So the other thing we were talking with a homeowner before, and the one thing that he said about the lawn that's really great is that you can let it bloom, and it's not a lot of maintenance. And then if you have a party or something, you can just mow it all down, and it looks just like a green lawn.

Speaker 2: That's right. You can mow it, and not too long after that, the flowers will come right back. So it is a lawn that is meant to be mowed from time to time, about once a month. But yes, you can let it grow and enjoy the flowers, or mow it off and have a nice green slate.

Speaker 1: People must look at lawns like this, and it looks pretty technical and hard. Is that the case? You know, when you start to go into eco lawns or something like a fertile lawn, you're going to take a course or something.

Speaker 2: Oh, not at all. I think it's probably all that's really required is a little bit of patience, maybe following a little bit of instruction, but it's not difficult to achieve. You know, Florida lawn is best started on bare soil, but we do have some other ecology lawns that can even be used as an overseas to an existing lawn, and you can gain all the benefits of an ecology lawn with an overseas. So these are not difficult to achieve. They do require about six to eight weeks to establish as opposed to a traditional lawn, which would be more like four weeks. But if you've got a couple of extra weeks of patience, this is easily achievable.

Speaker 1: Okay. Going the other way, is it even easier than a regular lawn? Yes.

Speaker 2: You know, it's even easier than traditional turf grass for many reasons. One, it's a slower grow, so you don't need to mow as much. Once established, it self-fertilizes, so you don't need to... Oh, all that clover.

All that clover is fertilizing the lawn for you, so you don't have to do it. One of our most popular mixes is the R &R EcoTurf. We think it's aptly named because you've got a lot of time for rest and relaxation. And that's a great one for overseeding an existing Pacific Northwest lawn. And then the meadows, even really less maintenance, Florida lawn, R &R EcoTurf, and a few others do require mowing about once a month. Now a meadow would not require that. You might line-trim it once a year just to get it ready for the next spring, so it comes up nice and fresh. But other than that, there is no mowing required for a meadow mix. Line trimming? Yes. Line trim or a weed wacker.

Speaker 1: Okay. Yes. So you just take the edge and make it look sharp?

Speaker 2: Well, you could take a weed wacker that kind of whips around and just takes off the top third of growth. Okay.

Speaker 1: All right. Why do you do that? Just out of curiosity?

Speaker 2: Well, that's just... Oh, so this gets you big. A lot of times people don't have a space even as large as this. They might even have 40 or 50 square feet and they don't own a lawnmower. You can just use a weed wacker or a line trimmer to cut it instead.

Speaker 1: Where's Fleur de Lawn sold? Is it just the Pacific Northwest? Or do people grow it outside the region? Yes.

Speaker 2: Fleur de Lawn, gosh, we sell it all over the country and into Canada. We even have some hardcore customers that grow it in Greece. So as long as you are in an area that can grow basically cool season grasses, what that means is basically everywhere in the U.S. except for maybe Arizona, Southern Texas, Florida, you can grow it anywhere north of there and really all over the world, although we just ship into Canada.

Speaker 1: So why not just do traditional lawn products? Why have you guys decided or why did the company take this direction of offering these other options?

Speaker 2: So yes, we also sell traditional turf grass mixes, but I think the growth in this industry and certainly something that we're interested in and something that we felt good about doing was promoting Ecolons, Meadows, and native seed because we know that this is going to really positively affect the negative effects of climate change and help our pollinators that are having a really tough time. And I think what we've found is that even the ordinary homeowner can have in large quantities, if we all work together, can have a pretty profound effect on pollinator health and climate change.

Speaker 1: So you know, there's a thing that the Pacific Northwest seems like a perfect place for having this kind of a business. I've been here in Oregon for a short period, but I've just noticed people are really motivated to incorporate conservation into their backyards. Is this something that you experience?

Speaker 2: Yes, absolutely. I think pro-time has been a leader in ecology lawn, but we could not do it without the interest that we have received from Portland and then throughout the Pacific Northwest region. We have incredible interest from Washington, Oregon, California, or the major areas that are leading in this industry. But what we've found, even in the last two and three years, is that Ecolons are being exported to New York City. It's a huge place for us in Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul. A lot of these major urban areas are also finding Ecolon, finding pro-time lawn seed, and wanting to bring in these specialty mixes to their region.

Speaker 1: So you're seeing it grow into a number of other markets of a lot of cities, and people are looking for these. It's not just the Pacific Northwest, a weird kind of Portland thing. It's something that goes away. It's starting to balloon out right across the U.S.

Speaker 2: Well, I think we can't forget that Oregon has the grass seed capital of the world. So we have some of the most sophisticated growers, but I think probably also consumers of seed. And they are certainly the people of Oregon leading the industry and their influencers to the rest of influencing taste, influencing perception, and what people actually think a lawn should be.

Speaker 1: That's fantastic. And I guess that's one thing about Oregon I often think about we've got a lot of seed production. And that seed is way more than we need for Oregon. We are really good at making seeds in this state, and Oregon does have this not only sort of shifting attitudes, but we can actually make it.

Speaker 2: Exile in a lot of it.

Speaker 1: It seems like there's a need to connect a lot of different things together. There's all sorts of research that's going on, reading varieties. There are people who kind of figure out the composition of things that can be really beneficial to pollinators. But then you need a company that's able to sort of put it on the market and get it out there. Can you talk a little bit about that connection when it comes to the products that you sell, sort of from research to getting it out to people?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think Flirtle Lawn is a great example of how we connect educational institutions and the state and consumers. Because flirtle Lawn here was developed in conjunction with horticulturalists, including the very well-regarded Tom Cook from OSU.

And that was over 40 years ago. But through his work and his ability to test a variety of different seeds and how they work together and came up with really the best option for a lawn seed mix that could be easily grown by the average person. And then we have the state that helps us to keep the seed industry honest. We're very regulated and we make sure that whatever seed we provide in a bag is exactly what we say it says on the label. And we can be confident that what we offer the public is the highest quality seed with the best science behind it that's going to germinate and establish and give you a great final product.

Speaker 1: And I guess that you know the production part of it as well is to have high-quality seed. You can buy seed, like you can go get seed. Seed is not the issue, but to get seed that actually has good genetics and hasn't degraded is high quality. I mean that must be the key to really making sure people aren't disappointed on the other end when they get the product and it doesn't work out and they're like, uh.

Speaker 2: That's true. And I think there are a lot of tricks that have been used in the seed industry that perhaps may have given it a bad name. We look to separate ourselves from that in a lot of ways. Probably the most important way other than working with our scientists and working with some of the best producers in the country is selling 100% seed, for example. A lot of seed companies will coat seed and clay and charge you twice as much for the benefit of that.

We sell 100% seed and then also sell you very clean seed. So there's no real inert matter. There are no other weeds in it. We make sure that what is in the bag is something that's going to be desirable in your lawn.

Speaker 1: Is there anything else that goes into producing something, you know, producing something that's real high quality for pollinators, you know, consumers out there looking for products like things that are really important?

Speaker 2: Well, it's something that we get asked all the time and we want to make sure that everyone knows that our seed is non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free. Okay. That's very important, particularly for the type of consumer we're trying to reach and for education purposes.

Speaker 1: I'm just looking at this and there's a lot of bees out there. It's I think it's really important that this is, uh, you know, that while this thing is in bloom, there are no pesticides on that plant.

Speaker 2: That's right. And that is probably one thing that everyone should know if you're interested in ecology lawns. You would not be able to use, you know, a broadleaf herbicide or a weed and feed product. A lot of times people use some products, weed, and feed, and they don't even realize that there's an herbicide in there. Oh, of course. Right. So very important.

Speaker 1: Because we're trying to keep the broadleaves in there. That's right.

Speaker 3: That's right.

Speaker 1: Just walk us through like what's in here.

Speaker 2: Okay. All right. We could just walk ourselves through. We could walk ourselves through. Okay. Okay. Okay. Here we have the microclover. Oh, yeah. And we have yarrow in here. Yarrow is just going to grow as a vegetative plant in this lawn. Okay. Even though if you were to let it grow, it would bloom white.

Okay. And draw pollinators. We also have strawberry clover in this lawn, though it is not in bloom at this time. And then Fleur de L'Anne has two, well actually three different types of daisies. We've got the double petal white. We've got the double petal pink. And then we also have the single petal white.

Speaker 1: Oh, those. I can tell it's double-petal pink. Here we go. Got three types of, you got it straight. We've got three types of daisies.

Speaker 2: Yes. We have single-petal whites. Uh-huh. Here. Uh-huh. Double petal white. There. Oh, yeah. Oh, so pretty. And we have the double petal pink. Right over there. Over here.

Speaker 1: So you've got, you don't just have one, you've got three. That's awesome. They're so gorgeous. And what are these little red things here?

Speaker 2: That is probably just the, the pink's just coming out. Oh, yeah. So they appear more red. Fantastic. And what about the grass? So we have, yes, we have perennial rye, which does appear to be this. We also have sheep's fescue and chewing's fescue. They are finer-bladed grasses that are very drought-tolerant.

Speaker 1: Oh, I guess the, the thinner it is. The more drought tolerant it is. Yes. Gotcha.

Speaker 2: Okay. Yep. And shade tolerant.

Speaker 1: Oh, you mean it can grow under this? As it is. Yes. All right. Okay. So how many, we said there are three types of grasses. Yes. Three types of grasses. Three types of daisies. Two types of clovers. Two types of clovers. Okay.

Speaker 2: And yarrow. And yarrow.

Speaker 1: And yarrow. Okay. And then, the micro clover is, what's the, the, what's the, why have two clovers? Why have different flowers in here?

Speaker 2: Well, I think that's what Tom Cook came up with. Okay. The one, but I think we love it because it is a great pollinator draw for bees. I think that was part of the idea, just, to bring in different bees. More activity. Okay. Fantastic.

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

How can we ask not what greenspaces can do for us but what greenspaces can do for the environment? Portland-based Pro Time Lawn Seed was one of the first businesses to tackle this question, with the founder of the company developing low-maintenance and low-input lawn seed mixes, and the new owners expanding the mission to promote pollinator habitat, species diversity and soil health. PolliNation wanted to learn more, so in this episode, I visit an eco-lawn in a Portland backyard with Pro Time owner Amy Cox (on the left, also in the picture are co-owners Josh Middleton and Dawn Griffin). We look over a lawn seeded with Fleur de Lawn, a mix developed in conjunction with Dr. Tom Cook at Oregon State University, who began working on lawn alternatives in 1985. We talk about the benefits of using eco-lawns, how they work, and to establish them, and then walk across the lawns looking for bees. Pro Time has seventeen new eco-lawn, meadow, wildflower and native seed mixes in their selection.

Listen in to learn more about eco-lawns, what brought Amy into this business, and what makes eco-lawns ideal for all different kinds of home owners.

You can Subscribe and Listen to PolliNation on Apple Podcasts.

And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“I think I’ve always wanted to something that helped other people, and that’s turned into something that can not only help people, but animals, insects, and the environment.” – Amy Cox

Show Notes:

  • How Amy got into the eco-lawn business
  • What still inspires Amy about this business
  • The benefits of having and keeping an eco-lawn
  • How easy it is to maintain an eco-lawn
  • What makes eco-lawns easier to maintain than regular lawns
  • The different types of eco-lawns and where they are best suited
  • Why Pro Time Lawn Seed began working on the eco-lawn
  • Why the Pacific Northwest is the ideal place for this kind of business to thrive
  • How Pro Time Lawn Seed bridges the gap between them and science and education
  • What separates Amy’s company from others in the seed business
  • What is in Pro Time Lawn Seed’s seed mixes

“Probably all that’s required [in maintaining an eco-lawn] is a little bit of patience, maybe following a bit of instruction, but it’s not difficult.” – Amy Cox

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