You are just a few steps from a more sustainable landscape

By Lynette L. Walther | Aug 14, 2014
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Mix it up in the lawn for carpet-like green without the need for chemicals by avoiding an all-grass monoculture for a more sustainable landscape.

It's all about sustainability these days. While it sounds like it might be a good thing, what exactly does it mean? Wikipedia defines sustainability as: “In ecology, sustainability is how biological systems remain diverse and productive.” All good, but how can that be applied to our home landscapes?

Certainly an organic approach to lawn care and gardening goes a long way toward reaching sustainability. But is the thought of going completely organic in your garden too daunting to consider? The National Garden Bureau tells us that making just a few simple changes can make a big difference in having a more sustainable and earth-friendly landscape.

Some suggested first steps by experts are:

• Amend the soil in your garden plot

• Create your own compost pile

• Collect rain water to use when watering

• Choose organic or less toxic products if they are a viable option

• Recognize good bugs and let them do the work for you

• Stop fighting Mother Nature

Amending your soil first and foremost usually means adding organic matter to lighten up the texture and add needed nutrients. And creating your own compost pile is easy. There are many different types of compost bins, including anything from basic models made of wire to fancier and sturdier ones, to countertop models. Or do what I do, pile grass clippings, leafy yard waste and trimmings and vegetable and fruit scraps together and let them do the work. Before long you’ll be rewarded with a rich, soil-improving mixture that is yours for free. As a bonus you can feel proud that you kept all that organic matter out of the landfill.

Collecting rain water is a great idea and an easy one that any do-it-yourselfer can install. There are a number of online sources where you can purchase a rain barrel: Gardener's Supply, Park Seed and Earl May. Maybe you really want to do it yourself. Then Pinterest, as always, has a plethora of ideas on how to build your own, suggests NGB. Your rain collection can be as simple as placing a few buckets under the eaves or at the downspout or elaborate as a commercial rain barrel.

For organic or more earth-friendly garden products, many NGB members sell organic seeds and/or plants: Botanical Interests, Cook's Garden, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Territorial Seed. And for other supplies for your garden: Dixondale Farms' insecticide; Harris Seeds' Organic & Sustainable garden supplies; Mother Nature’s Cuisine's Veggie & Herb Fertilizer; Garden Guys' Horticultural Vinegar; Oh No! Deer Repellents; and Garden Guys' Garden Neem.

Or your lawn could be the starting point toward a sustainable approach. Ditch the chemicals and you might be surprised at how great your lawn can be. Jesse Labbe-Watson, a permaculture designer who recently spoke at Merryspring Nature Center, suggests rethinking the weeds in your lawn. For instance, consider harvesting dandelion greens in the spring to make use of the nutrient-rich greens in meals rather than using herbicides to remove them. Other weeds can be harvested throughout the summer season, and added to the compost mix. And consider the mixed lawn that includes drought and heat-tolerant Dutch clover and other grasses instead of a mono-culture of one type of grass that needs constant attention, irrigation, herbicides and pesticides to keep it green and carpet-like. The Dutch clover in our lawn draws pollinators and honeybees, which because we use nothing but an occasional spread of pellitized lime, is perfectly safe for them and other beneficial insects. Labbe-Watson’s permaculture designs take sun or shade exposures, water flow and even wildlife habitat into consideration.

Respecting Mother Nature means paying attention to your environment. If your garden site is in the sun, select plants that need sunny areas to thrive. Conversely, if your site is in the shade, don’t set yourself up for failure or frustration by trying to grow sun-lovers in an area where they are withering from a lack of sun. Plant those varieties with similar water needs together to make irrigation more efficient. In the same way, pay attention to plants that naturally do well in your climate. This is especially true with vegetables. Growing Southwestern style chili peppers is probably not a viable option unless you use some of the newer hybrids that have been bred for the area. (Note: Hybrids can be part of an organic garden!)

NGB member Bonnie Plants offers this list of nine practices for more sustainable gardening:

• Work compost into soil to increase soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients. Compost also supports beneficial soil microbes that help spur healthy plant growth.

• Avoid planting large blocks of the same crop, which offers an easy target for pests.

• Protect soil from compaction with wide rows or raised planting beds. Permanent footpaths also prevent soil compaction.

• Inspect plants daily to catch pest and disease attacks before they become major problems.

• Research pest and disease problems to learn all control options.

• Choose synthetic chemicals for pest control only when all other methods fail. Select a target-specific chemical (which targets a specific insect) instead of a broad-spectrum one (which targets many different types of insects).

• Hang birdhouses and add a birdbath to attract insect-eating birds to your garden, but be ready to share some fruit with them, too. Birds appreciate perches, fence posts or stakes for quick visits.

• Let leafy crops, such as broccoli or greens, flower at the end of their season to provide nectar for beneficial insects.

• Mulch planting beds to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

St. Lynn's Press offers a complete book with 250 additional tips on how to grow organically.

Start small, selecting the things you can do to make your garden more sustainable. Then add more when possible. The beauty of many of these suggestions is that they can cut landscape expenses along with creating a sustainable environment. No matter which steps you take, enjoy the garden and have fun reaping the many rewards it offers.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.

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