Sustainability is defined as an approach to landscaping that emphasizes plant health and longevity. Sustainability does not mean the elimination of inputs into the landscape, i.e., fertilizers, pesticides, labor, dollars, etc. Rather, sustainability means the creation of outdoor spaces that utilize fewer inputs, are environmentally friendly, and are self-perpetuating over a period of time. Most importantly, a sustainable landscape demonstrates a harmonious relationship between components in the landscape.
Your landscape is one part of a large system involved with watersheds. Watersheds are large areas that drain into common lakes, rivers or oceans. Nature knows no property lines. A rainstorm or excessive irrigation can wash pesticides and fertilizers from your landscape and pollute your neighbor’s lawn and local waterways.
CREATING A FRIENDLY LANDSCAPE
Creating and using a well-planned design is the first step towards an environmentally friendly landscape. Develop and follow a logical planning process. Don’t visit a nursery and only pick out plants that seen attractive. Instead, follow the steps outlined below:
§ drought resistance
§ pest resistance
§ adapted natives
§ slow growing
§ wind resistance
§ adapted to low fertilization
ANALYZING SITE CONDITIONS
Food should be provided in the form of plants that bear seeds, berries, fruit, foliage or flowers that you are willing to have eaten by birds or butterfly larvae. Berries, fruits, nuts and acorns are treats for wildlife. Red tubular-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds.
WARNING: Pets that are allowed to harass wildlife will negate any efforts you put into attracting wildlife.
MAINTAINING YOUR LANDSCAPE
Composting: Adding compost to your soil on a regular basis will improve soil structure, texture and aeration, help loosen compacted soils, promotes soil fertility and stimulates root growth. It will also create a favorable environment for beneficial microorganisms. Home built compost bins can be used for disposing of leaves, grass clippings and vegetable kitchen scraps. Compost can also be bought commercially from landfills and garden centers. For more information on how to build and maintain a compost pile.
Fertilizing: Adding compost regularly to your landscape beds should provide enough nutrients to maintain growth. If an additional supply of nutrients is required by soil test reports, use a fertilizer containing at least 50% slow release nitrogen. Use a balanced fertilizer such as 16-4-8 at a rate of 2 tbs. per foot height of plant growth. Turfgrasses should be fertilized according to grass and soil type and soil test results.
Irrigation: Watering your landscape should only be done to supplement rainfall. Plants will thrive better on the dry side. When irrigation is needed, remember the rule of thumb of "deep and infrequent". This means a watering deeply after the plants have thoroughly dried. One inch of water per week should be enough to supplement most plants. Be sure to water early in the morning and design your irrigation system so that ornamental beds and turf are separated to different irrigation zones. Use micro- or drip irrigation systems on shrubs & trees where feasible.
Mowing, Pruning and Raking: Selecting plants with desirable mature heights will eliminate the need for constant pruning. Follow recommended plant management practices that will keep growth slow and steady so that light yearly pruning is all that will be needed. Recycle the grass. Mow to remove one-third of the grass height, and return the clippings back into the turf. Use leaves that have fallen from trees and shrubs as mulch in beds.
Mulching: Applying a 2-3 inch thick layer of mulch over plants root systems will reduce moisture loss, moderate soil temperatures, reduce weed growth and add to the beauty of your landscape. Mulches can also be used to replace turfgrass or areas that are difficult to mow and naturally shaded. Keep all mulches at least 2 inches from the trunks of plants.
Pest Management: It is unreasonable to strive for an insect, disease and weed-free landscape. An environmentally friendly landscape will work with nature to provide for natural pest controls using beneficial insects. Use the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) method of gardening. Carefully monitor plants for insect or disease problems and use cultural control first. Use chemical controls only as a last resort and if required, use the least toxic products first.
Preventing Site Runoff: Direct downspouts toward low areas or swales in the landscape to collect rainfall and allow it to filter through the soil. Shape the site to prohibit water flowing from your site into storm drains. Naturalized areas or berms can be used to create natural collectors where excess water can percolate into the soil. Use porous materials for walkways and drives and reduce the amount of nonporous material on site.
You may also want to visit our Gardeners' Corner for more gardening information and tips.
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