Garden & Landscape Tips

A recent National Gardening Association survey found that 9 out of every 10 homeowners say they consider it important to care for home landscapes in an environmentally responsible way. However, only half say they know how to do that, and 30 percent admit they are “not at all” or “not very” environmentally conscious in the ways they care for their landscapes.

What can you do to be a greener gardener? Here’s a thought-list…

insect sprayer
Fewer gardeners are spraying everywhere “just in case.”
    • Do you spray for bugs “just in case?” Spraying each insect you see could mean killing helpful predator bugs, which naturally control the bulk of pest bugs.

      A University of Maryland study found that only 10 types of bugs cause 95 percent of landscape damage, and most of that damage occurs on only 20 types of plants including roses, azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, cherries, pines and euonymus.

      A good first step: Do your homework on pest-prone plants. If there’s a pest-prone ornamental you just have to have, consider planting it at a distance from the foundation of your home.

    • Are you bagging and tossing grass clips? Stop. Grass clippings feed your lawn and landscape as they decay. They’re not the cause of thatch problems. Cut often enough that the grass doesn’t mat and thereby shut off sunlight to your lawn. If you get behind, rake the clips and compost them.

    • Do you compost? Homemade compost is not only a great way to recycle grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps. It yields a broadly nutritious soil amendment that adds organic matter to your soil. Done properly, compost piles don’t smell, and they don’t attract rodents that aren’t already in the area.

    • Is your yard bird-friendly? Sprawling swaths of green carpet are lush and beautiful, but do little to attract birds, bees, butterflies, beneficial insects and other wildlife that are important parts of a healthy ecosystem.

      Think about trading some of that grass for island beds of trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens and perennial groundcovers. Go with low-care choices, and you can add beauty and diversity while actually reducing maintenance. Also, add feeders. A premium, waste-free bird food mix like Lyric Delite Mix attracts and feeds myriad species without leaving annoying shells or weeds.

    • How native are your plants? Using plant selections native to your region is important to help local wildlife and beneficial insects thrive. At least avoid – and ideally remove – non-native plants that are so invasive that they threaten to choke out native plant life. (Read more about removing non-native plants.)

      Each state has its own current invasive plant list. A good national resource is the U.S. National Arboretum.

    • Are you wasting water? Recycle rain water by installing rain barrels or cisterns. Let mature lawns go dormant in summer drought. They’ll bounce back even if they get no water for 4 or 6 weeks after going brown.

      Be careful running sprinklers. Don’t let them sprinkle sidewalks and driveways, and don’t run timers that use water even when the plants don’t need it. Do your watering early in the morning or early in the evening when evaporation loss is less than midday.

    • Do you landscape to cut home energy costs? Tall, dense evergreens to the north and northwest of the house make a windbreak to block cold winter winds from reaching the house. Leaf-dropping shade trees to the south and west cool the house in summer but let sun shine through in winter to warm it.

Water only plants that really need it.
  • Is your yard a recycling center? A yard’s organic waste can be put to use without it ever leaving the property, such as shredded prunings as mulch, leaves as winter insulation and grass clippings as compost fodder.

    Even household castoffs can be put to use in gardening. Examples: Shredded paper and fireplace ashes (in moderation) can go in the compost pile. Newspaper makes a good mulch underneath straw or wood chips. Plastic containers can be reused to start seeds, grow plants or protect young plants from the cold. Even holey nylons can be used as plant ties.

  • Are you a gas power-tool junkie? Try using more hand tools. They’re better exercise, don’t use gas and don’t create noise or air pollution.

    Consider a push reel mower instead of a traditional gas-powered one. Or least consider switching to electric or battery-powered trimmers, edgers, blowers and shears.

  • Are you growing your own food? Every fruit or vegetable you grow in the yard is one less that’s been shipped long distance or flown in from overseas.

    Home food gardening also is a more productive use of space than lawn and allows you to control what goes on the food.

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