GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard
GreenScaping, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is landscaping practices that promote the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources. A great article by the EPA titled, "GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard", will be summarized here and will encompass five posts due to the length of the article. By practicing these activities, you can:
- Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical usage
- Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care
- Protect the environment by conserving water and by using chemicals responsibly so they don’t contaminate our waterways and drinking water sources. How can this all be possible? Working with nature in five steps, the first post of this series will focus on:
Step 1: Build and Maintain Healthy Soil In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients used for new plant growth. This circle of life helps to maintain the approximately 4 billion organisms found in a teaspoon of healthy soil! These beneficial organisms help create a loose soil structure which allows for proper air and water circulation, as well as, aide in proper plant root growth. Other good deeds include: the storing of water until plants need it and protecting plants from pests and diseases.
A good starting point towards achieving healthy soil is a soil test. A soil test will give you a good baseline on determining the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil contains or possibly needs. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more details.
Compost is a critical part of healthy soil. It helps to feed the beneficial soil life so that it can, in turn, feed and protect the plants. It also retains nutrients and water for sandy soils and helps to loosens clay soils. Every spring and fall is an ideal time to add between a quarter to half-inch of compost to your existing lawns or beds.
Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings. Mulch helps to stabilize the soil temperature, prevents weeds, and retains moisture. Spring and fall is an ideal time to assure mulch levels are adequate (no more than 3 inches).
Slow-Release or Organic Fertilizer
If needed, look for fertilizers that contain “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients. These will fertilize plants slowly and evenly and allow for strong root systems. “Slow-release” types will help to reduce nutrient run-off into the ground and surface waters.
Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil!
Step 2: Plant Right for Your Site
Know your yard so you’ll know what plants can go where. What spots are sunny, shady? What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil do you have (e.g. sandy, clay)? All of these questions will help determine what plants can go where. Also, determine the location of plants, play areas, privacy, etc.
Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place
Based on the questions you answered above, select plants that do well in those conditions. Choosing native plants is equally as important because they have evolved with this environment over many years. Always envision the mature height and width of any plant before placement, especially near your house, driveway and power lines.
Choose Plants That Resist Pests
Some plants are more pest- and disease-resistant than others. Always research your potential plants before planting. This can save you time and money on pest control.
Give Plants a Good Start
Incorporate one to three inch layer of compost into your planting beds before planting. Follow instructions on proper planting instructions. A good layer of mulch atop your newly plantings, along with consistent water the first few years will help to build the deep roots that are desired.
Make Space for Wildlife
Invite birds, butterflies and other wildlife into your yard, protect streams and fish and make a more attractive yard. Some ideas include:
- Plant native plants. Consider varieties with berries, fruits and flowers.
- Plant in layers (e.g. ground cover, shrubs and trees) to mimic the forest.
- Don't plant invasive plant species. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for a list of invasive "noxious weeds".
- Use pesticides only when necessary to minimize harm to birds, beneficial insects and fish. Always follow the label directions when using.
- Provide a bird bath or similar water source. Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
- Leave wild "buffer" areas of native plants along ravines, streams and fencelines.
Step 3: Practice Smart Watering
Water Deeply, But Infrequently
Most plants do best when their roots are allowed to dry out between watering. Learn the signs of when its time to water. For example, your lawn is in need of watering when footprints remain after you walk across it. Vegetables and other annuals will show signs of wilting, but other established perennials will only need watering if they remain wilted after the evening cool-off. Trees and shrubs, once established, won’t need watering unless for extreme cases of drought.
Make Every Drop Count
Having a healthy and beautiful lawn and plants doesn’t have to jack up your water bill. Consider some of these water saving activities:
- Help retain moisture and reduce evaporation in your soil by adding compost and by mulching.
- Select low-water-use plants. Once established, they thrive exclusively on rainfall.
- Soaker hoses and drip irrigation on beds are huge water savers. They save as much as 50 percent compared to sprinklers.
- Incorporate a water timer. This will assure the correct amount of water and the appropriate time of day for watering.
- Water in the early morning. Watering mid-day actually allows for evaporation and evening watering allows for mold and other plant diseases.
- Water lawns separately from other plantings. Ensure the sprinklers are properly aimed and aren’t watering the pavement.
Let the Rain Soak In
Utilize your rain. If not used, the rain flows from roofs, pavement and compacted soil. It eventually will cause flooding downstream, which in turn, causes erosion and pollution after picking up pollutants along the way.
- Direct downspouts to your yard, or into rain barrels or rain gardens.
- The use of compost and mulch can help retain this rain and help prevent erosion.
- Use open pavers or gravel instead of pavement to allow rain to seep into the soil.
Step 4: Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management
Continuous pest problems in your yard are often a sign that your yard is lacking a requirement needed to keep itself healthy. While pesticides used for pest, weeds and bug killers can be effective means of control, correcting the underlying problem is the best remedy. A holistic or integrated pest management approach is the most effective way to manage pests.
Start with Prevention
- Maintain healthy soil with the use of compost and mulch
- Select pest-resistant plants and place in their desired location (sun, shade and soil conditions, etc.)
- Diversify your plant selection so if there is a pest infestation, your entire garden won’t be compromised.
- Mow higher. It’s recommended to mow as high as 2 – 3 inches. This promotes deep root growth and thicker leaf surface, which helps to choke out weeds.
- Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
- Pull weeds before they go to seed.
- Remove dead plants so pests have less hiding places.
Identify the Problem before Acting
It’s hard to effectively manage a problem without knowing the cause. So identify the bug, disease, weed, etc. and determine the best action from there. Remember many bugs are beneficial! Monitor your area for pests but don’t spray immediately. Nature may be able to control it for you. Using an integrated approach may solve the problem if a weed or pest problem develops. Try some of the following suggestions:
- Instead of pesticide, use some "elbow grease" by pulling out dandelions with long-handled weed pullers.
- Mulching, as stressed many times throughout this series, reduces weeds in your garden beds.
- Crop rotation techniques help to minimize plant's susceptibility to pests and diseases.
Step 5: Practice Natural Lawn Care
Mow higher, mow regularly and leave the clippings Mow more frequently and mow higher when your grass is growing actively. A good rule of thumb is to never cut more than one-third the height of the grass. This minimizes the amount of grass clippings and helps to reduce thatch buildup. The grass clippings will be recycled into fertilizer. Use “natural organic” or “slow release” fertilizers These fertilizers reduce nutrient run-off and leaching. Use fertilizers sparingly by keeping it in your yard and off the street and pavement. Water deeply , but infrequently, to moisten the whole root zone Let your soil dry between watering to prevent lawn disease and save water. Lawns only need about one inch of water a week in the summer, including rain, to stay green. Overseeding can improve the quality of your lawn A few great steps to consider:
- Core aerate in the fall to improve root development and water penetration
- Follow by overseeding thin areas of your lawn with grass seed blends recommended for your area
- “Top Dress” by raking in a quarter- to half- inch of compost to cover the seed and improve the soil
- Repeat these steps annually as needed to improve poor lawns