A GreenScape is a healthy, eco-friendly landscape that can help you save time and money while also protecting the environment. Few people realize that the average American landscape -- with it's reliance on artificial fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and petroleum-based lawn mowing, edging and weeding -- is an environmental nightmare.
But a GreenScape uses a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while also protecting and preserving natural resources. Adapted from information provided by the EPA, here are the basics on how to turn your yard into a lush, beautiful GreenScape.
GreenScape: The Basics
By gradually changing your landscape to a GreenScape, over time you can save time and money and protect the environment. Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical use. Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care. And protect the environment by conserving water supplies, using chemicals properly and only when necessary, and reducing yard waste by recycling yard trimmings into free fertilizer and mulch.
In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients for new plant growth. Plants are adapted to the water, sun and soil available in their site. Maintaining a wide variety of healthy plants, soil organisms, beneficial insects and animals can keep most pests and diseases in check.
By working with nature, you can have a great-looking yard that's easier to care for, cheaper to maintain and healthier for families, pets, wildlife and the environment.
Build and Maintain Healthy Soil
A teaspoonful of healthy soil contains about 4 billion organisms! This community of beneficial soil creatures keeps our landscapes healthy by creating a loose soil structure that allows air, water and plant root growth into the soil. It also recycles nutrients and makes them available to plants, stores water until plants need it, and protects plants from pests and diseases.
A soil test will tell you how much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil needs to grow healthy plants. Depending on the condition of the soil, you may not even need to apply these nutrients! Contact your local cooperative extension office or garden supply center for a soil test kit.
Feed your soil with compost: Dig or rototill one to three inches of compost into 6 to 12 inches of top soil when you’re making new beds or planting lawns. Top dress existing lawns with a quarter- to half-inch of compost every spring or fall. Compost helps sandy soils hold nutrients and water, loosens clay soils and feeds the beneficial soil life so it can feed and protect your plants.
Mulch improves the health of flower beds, vegetable gardens, trees, shrubs and woody perennials. Use two to three inches of woody mulches, like shredded tree bark or aged wood chips. Shredded fall leaves also work well. Be sure to keep mulches an inch away from plant stems or trunks to prevent rot.
But can you mulch your lawn? Yes, you can "grasscycle" (leave the clippings on the lawn when mowing). The clippings quickly decompose and release valuable nutrients back into the soil to feed the grass, reducing the need for nitrogen by 25 to 50 percent.
Mow more frequently when grass is actively growing so that you are only cutting no more than one-third of the height of the grass. This practice minimizes the amount of grass clippings. The desired height of grass varies depending on climate. "Grasscycling" doesn't cause thatch build up -- but it does make lawns healthier. Soil organisms recycle the clippings into free fertilizer, and you save all the work of bagging.
Does your GreenScape need fertilizer? Go slow! Most trees and shrubs get all the nutrients they need from the soil. But annual plants, vegetable gardens and lawns sometimes need additional nutrients from a fertilizer. When shopping for fertilizer, look for a product that contains organic or slow-release ingredients. Unlike quick-release fertilizers, organic or slow-release fertilizers feed your plants slowly and evenly. The result is healthier plants with strong root systems and no excessive top growth, saving you time and money. Moreover, using slow-release fertilizers can reduce nutrient run-off into ground and surface waters.
Plant Right for Your Site
Get to know your yard and decide how you want to use it. Where is it sunny or shady? What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil (e.g., sandy, clay) do you have in your yard? Look around -- are there plants with problems? Where do you want play areas, vegetables, color, views or privacy? How much lawn do you need or want to maintain?
Choose the right plant for the right place. Select plants that grow well in your area of the country and fit the amount of sun, type of soil and water available in your yard. (In general, it makes sense to use low-water plants to save yourself the time and expense of watering). Think about how big a tree or shrub will be when mature (especially next to your house or driveway, or near power lines).
Pick plants that resist pests. Many garden centers and nurseries offer information about pest- and disease-resistant plant varieties. After they’re established, they'll save you time and money on pest control.
Practice Smart Watering for Healthier Plants
Did you know that watering too much or too little is the cause of many common plant problems? With GreenScape, you can have healthier plants, save money on water bills and conserve precious water resources by learning to give your lawn and garden just what they need, and no more.
Water deeply, but infrequently. Most plants do best if the soil is allowed to partially dry out between waterings. A loss of shine or footprints remaining after you walk across the lawn indicates that it's time to water. Vegetables and other annuals should be watered at the first sign of wilting, but tougher perennials (plants that live several years) need water only if they stay droopy after it cools off in the evening. Trees and shrubs usually don’t need any watering once their roots are fully established (two to five years), except in very dry years.
Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation on beds -- they can save 50 percent or more compared with sprinklers. Use an outdoor water timer (available at garden stores) to water just the right amount, frequency and time of day. Water lawns separately from other plantings. Make sure sprinklers aren't watering the pavement. When soil is dry or compacted, it won’t absorb water quickly. If water puddles, stop watering a while and then restart so the water has time to soak in. And water in the early morning -- if you water at mid-day, much of the water just evaporates. Evening watering should be avoided because it can encourage the growth of mold or plant diseases.
Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management
Pesticides (including weed and bug killers) can be effective tools for controlling pests such as insects, weeds and diseases. Be sure you need a pesticide before you use it. On-going pest problems are often a sign that your lawn or garden is not getting what it needs to stay healthy. You need to correct the underlying problem to reduce the chance of pests reappearing. Remember, a holistic -- or integrated pest management -- approach is the most effective way to manage pests. Here's how:
GreenScape starts with prevention. Maintain healthy soil with compost and mulch, and select pest-resistant plants. Use a variety of plants so, if pests attack, your whole garden isn’t at risk. Mow higher: most grasses should be mowed to a height of two to three inches. Taller grass has more leaf surface and deeper roots and eventually chokes out many weeds. Clean out diseased plants so disease doesn’t spread, and pull weeds before they go to seed and spread.
Identify the problem before you spray, squash or stomp. Whether it's a bug, disease or weed, you need to identify it to know how to effectively manage it. The cause of ailing plants or grass may not be pests or disease but incorrect mowing or pruning, improper watering or other easily corrected practices. That scary bug could actually be a beneficial "good bug" that eats problem pests.
Replace problem plants with pest-resistant ones for a healthier, care-free yard. If a plant, even a tree, has insect, pest or disease problems every year, consider replacing it with a more tolerant or resistant variety or another type of plant that doesn’t have these problems. And accept a little damage like a few pests, as long as they are not harmful to the long-term health of the landscape. Natural predators often bring pests under control, but they need time to work.
Finally, use pesticides responsibly. Carefully read and follow pesticide product label instructions. Avoid overuse of pesticides. When you have a small problem area, treat just that area, not the entire yard.